Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa

Democrats with White House aspirations are flocking to Iowa. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE (I-Vt.), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) John RyanOvernight Energy: Top presidential candidates to skip second climate forum | Group sues for info on 'attempts to politicize' NOAA | Trump allows use of oil reserve after Saudi attacks Five top 2020 Democrats haven't committed to MSNBC climate forum Progressive tax-the-rich push gains momentum MORE (Ohio), Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (Minn.) and Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Wall Street ends volatile month in major test for Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Hurricane headed for Florida changes Trump's travel plans MORE (Mass.) are among the Democrats who visited the Hawkeye State last year. 

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley dropped in four times, while former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander has visited the state on seven occasions in recent months. He also deployed his former campaign manager to Iowa to head up a field office for his voting rights organization. 

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Locals have been buzzing about a potential appearance by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Budowsky: Donald, Boris, Bibi — The right in retreat MORE, who is expected to come to the state to campaign for Abby Finkenauer, a former staffer who is running for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives. 

Sanders — who made stops last summer in Des Moines and Iowa City — is also expected to return to campaign for Pete D'Alessandro, a former operative of his who is running for Congress. 

Other top-tier potential candidates such as Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (N.Y.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall MORE (N.J.) have yet to test the waters, but Pat Rynard, founder of the popular Democratic news site IowaStartingLine.com, predicted that their travel to Iowa isn’t too far away. 

On the ground, he said there’s interest in the three would-be candidates “because they’re on the news a lot” and not because of any particular connection they’ve made with residents. 

The flurry of activity among presidential hopefuls shows the increasing importance of Iowa not just for caucus results but for making a name and building a brand on the national political stage. 

David Wade, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior aide to then-Democratic presidential nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster MORE in 2004, predicted that the Iowa caucuses will be “the most anticipated ... ever.” 

“Iowa has taken on an outsized importance in the last several years for Democrats,” Wade said. “There used to be a myth that a Democrat could skip Iowa and win the nomination anyways, because Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMost voters say there is too much turnover in Trump administration RNC spokeswoman on 2020 GOP primary cancellations: 'This is not abnormal' Booker dismisses early surveys: 'If you're polling ahead right now, you should worry' MORE skipped the caucuses in 1992. But John Kerry in 2004 and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMost voters say there is too much turnover in Trump administration Trump's 'soldier of fortune' foreign policy Warren picks up key endorsement from Iowa state treasurer MORE in 2008 demonstrated that an early and unlikely win in Iowa could set the story for almost the entire primary season.” 

“You have to start early,” Wade added. “It’s a state that rewards on-the-ground time and investment of resources and with a large Democratic field expected, every supporter in every precinct and county really counts. You want to be building those inroads early.”

Rynard said it is relatively easy for candidates large and small to draw a crowd in Iowa from Democrats interested in showing their resistance to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE

And because there's no clear front-runner in 2020, candidates feel free to test their luck. 

“Back before the 2016 cycle, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonQueer Marine veteran launches House bid after incumbent California Rep. Susan Davis announces retirement Poll: Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Florida Former immigration judge fined, temporarily banned from federal service for promoting Clinton policies MORE's potential run scared a lot of people from dipping their toes in Iowa waters,” he said. 

During a two-day trip in June, Ryan gave a commencement address at Maharishi University and attended an event with Polk County Democrats in Des Moines.

A few months later, he was back in Des Moines for a steak fry in September. 

At the event, he said his party needed to appeal to working-class voters, something that eluded them during the 2016 presidential election when many supported Trump over Clinton. 

“It starts with letting these working-class people know that we see them, we hear them and we know what they are going through, and we have a plan,” Ryan said.  

Moulton and Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosGOP struggles with retirement wave DCCC names new head after mass staff departure The Hill's Morning Report - Trump ousts Bolton; GOP exhales after win in NC MORE (D-Ill.) also attended the steak fry, while Klobuchar headlined two Iowa events last year. 

Kander headlined an Iowa Democratic dinner in August along with Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate MORE (D-Calif.), who has also been mentioned in 2020 chatter and has made four trips to the state. 

Adam Parkhomenko, the Democratic strategist who co-founded Ready for Hillary and spent two years building an operation on the ground in the state ahead of Clinton’s 2016 bid, said he wasn’t surprised about the increased focused on Iowa. 

“Anytime you have a party out of power and the talk of so many candidates, it would make sense that some would get an early start,” Parkhomenko said. “Organizing does not take place overnight and for many that are looking at running for president the first time, they don’t have the existing relationships there. And it’s a state where you really have to prove yourself.”

Rynard and others in the state only expect the fly-ins to pick up in the weeks ahead. 

He said that both Sanders and Biden already have support among Iowans should they decide to run. In an Iowa Starting Line–Insight 2020 poll focused on Biden, he found that 70 percent of the Democrats polled viewed the former vice president “very favorably.” 

The poll found that Biden performed “exceptionally well” with Sanders’s caucus voters in 2016, though he added that Sanders would start out with a large base of support. 

“It's definitely different this time for a number of reasons,” he said of the political atmosphere in Iowa. “For one thing, the 2020 primary is going to be a free-for-all and if you're running for president, you might as well jump in now.”