Dem hopefuls flock to Iowa
Democrats with White House aspirations are flocking to Iowa.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Rep. Seth Moulton (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.
Locals have been buzzing about a potential appearance by former Vice President Joe Biden, 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 Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Cory Booker (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 Kerry 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 Clinton skipped the caucuses in 1992. But John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama 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 Trump.
And because there’s no clear front-runner in 2020, candidates feel free to test their luck.
“Back before the 2016 cycle, Hillary Clinton’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 Bustos (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 Swalwell (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.”
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