Buttigieg, Other Democrats Look to `Era That Must Come Next'

(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg promised to ring in “the era that must come next” while Elizabeth Warren warned Democrats not to choose a candidate who only “nibbles around the edges” of change as they and other candidates gathered Friday for one of biggest nights of the party’s presidential nominating process.

The Iowa Democrats’ Liberty & Justice Celebration held the potential for a big moment as one of the last chances for 13 candidates -- especially those who face the prospect of not qualifying for future debates -- to break out in the race.

Buttigieg, Other Democrats Look to `Era That Must Come Next'

It was also an opportunity for former Vice President Joe Biden, the longtime national front-runner, to try to recapture some of his momentum after a sharp slide in recent state polls.

Yet while a handful of the contenders gave the kinds of performances that thrilled their supporters, the event did not appear to fundamentally change the tight race ahead of the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus.

The dinner, which had previously been named in honor of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, was a turning point in Barack Obama’s Iowa caucus campaign in 2007 and this year’s candidates appeared conscious of the stakes.

Buttigieg’s team had suggested comparisons to Obama, and the South Bend, Indiana, mayor recalled his first time visiting Iowa, when he volunteered for “a young man with a funny name” who was running a dozen years ago.

“I didn’t just come here to end the era of Donald Trump. I came here to launch the era that must come next,” he said.

Like Obama, Buttigieg, 37, promises generational change in the White House and has been facing down much older and more established candidates such as Biden. He’s begun to rise in Iowa polls, though he’s struggled to appeal to black voters, who are key to capturing the Democratic nomination.

A New York Times/Siena poll released Friday showed how tight the race in Iowa has become. Warren narrowly led with the support of 22% of likely caucus goers, followed by Bernie Sanders at 19%, Buttigieg at 18% and Biden at 17%.

Buttigieg had a large contingent among the approximately 13,000 people in the arena, with supporters holding four-foot-tall letters spelling “BOOT-EDGE-EDGE.”

Warren and Kamala Harris also had big showings, which translated into loud and extended cheers as the candidates spoke.

Buttigieg, Other Democrats Look to `Era That Must Come Next'

In her speech, Warren stressed her readiness to fight against powerful forces, from President Donald Trump to big banks and health insurance companies. She also took a lightly veiled swipe at rivals like Buttigieg and Biden who favor a more incremental approach than her proposals for sweeping change such as Medicare for All.

“Anyone who comes on this stage and tells you they can make change without a fight is not going to win that fight. Anyone who comes on this stage and tells you to dream small and give up early is not going to lead our party to victory,” Warren said.

She warned that while other candidates might “think that running some vague campaign that nibbles around the edges is somehow safe,” Democrats will lose “if the most we can promise is ‘business as usual’ after Donald Trump.”

After a tough week in which her campaign all but shut down its New Hampshire operations to focus on Iowa amid a cash crunch, Harris gave a focused speech about how she would fight for “justice for the people” – a phrase her supporters spelled out in purple fluorescent lights.

“I do believe that when we overcome these injustices, we will unlock the promise of America and the potential of the American people,” Harris said.

She took aim at Warren, hinting at the former Harvard Law School professor’s consulting work for corporations facing bankruptcy. “Unlike others, I’ve never represented a corporation. I’ve never represented a special interest. I’ve always represented the people,” she said.

Like all the other candidates, Biden spoke without a teleprompter, though he was at times repetitive. More than other top-tier candidates, he hewed closely to a version of his standard stump speech that was heavy on attacks against Trump and his argument that he is best suited to beat the president “like a drum.” At one point, he said Trump was already attacking him as if they were squaring off in the general election.

The former vice president also said he’d be best prepared to bring the country together after the divisive Trump era.

Buttigieg, Other Democrats Look to `Era That Must Come Next'

“The next president of the United States is going to face a divided nation as well as a world in chaos and it’s going to require a president who on day one can unite the country,” Biden said. “I know some of my colleagues say that’s naive. Well, I’ve done it.”

While most of his argument centered around how he’d match up against Trump, he also took a swing at the Medicare for All proposals from Warren and Sanders. Earlier Friday, Warren unveiled her plan to pay for her health care plan, which her advisers estimate will cost $20.5 trillion over a decade. Biden cast doubt on her assertion that her proposal wouldn’t require tax increases on the middle class.

Biden’s campaign brought in members of the International Association of Fire Fighters to fortify his contingent of supporters, but a few hundred seats in sections behind Biden signs were empty throughout the night.

A speaker who had been scheduled, former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, announced hours before the dinner that he was dropping out of the race.

Speaking toward the end of the night, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar excited those who’d stuck around to hear from them.

Buttigieg, Other Democrats Look to `Era That Must Come Next'

Klobuchar spoke about her history of winning in the Midwest, even in Republican-heavy areas, while Booker spoke of a “moral moment” about more than defeating Trump.

“This is going to be decided by who can best call us to our common aspirations. Who can best inspire us to be the truth of who we are. We don’t abandon our values during trials, we double down on them,” Booker said.

“When a president tries to divide us, the end for Democrats shouldn’t be to beat Republicans,” he added. “The calling of this party must be to unite Americans again in common cause and common purpose.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.