Top-tier Dems begin making way to Iowa

Top-tier Dems begin making way to Iowa
© Greg Nash

The top tier of the prospective Democratic field in the 2020 presidential race is making its way to Iowa ahead of the first-in-the-nation caucuses that already are being described as more important than ever.

The caucuses, set to take place on Feb. 3, 2020, could give a much-needed early boost to more than one candidate in what is expected to be a crowded field that could include two dozen people.

“If you’re an underdog candidate, you’ve got to be in the top three to break out,” said Pat Rynard, who runs the political website Iowa Starting Line.

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Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOvernight Defense: Two US service members killed in Afghanistan | Trump calls on other nations to take up fight against ISIS | Pentagon scraps billion-dollar missile defense program ABC unveils moderators for third Democratic debate Sanders targets gig economy as part of new labor plan MORE (D-N.J.) over the weekend visited the Hawkeye State for the first time since the 2016 campaign. He appeared at a string of events in subsequent days to campaign for 2018 midterm candidates.

“My chief of staff wouldn’t let me come up to Iowa because people would talk about presidential stuff,” Booker joked to a crowd in Boone on Monday. 

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Rising Warren faces uphill climb with black voters Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race MORE (D-Calif.) is expected to make appearances for midterm candidates later this month over the course of several days. 

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 candidates have the chance to embrace smarter education policies Bernie Sanders Adviser talks criminal justice reform proposal, 'Medicare for All' plan Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona MORE (I-Vt.), who narrowly lost the caucuses to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Hickenlooper announces Senate bid MORE in 2016, is set to visit Iowa later this month. It’s one of nine states he’ll visit while campaigning for Democratic candidates in the midterms.

A few others seen as top candidates if they choose to enter the race, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona Giuliani says he discussed Biden with Ukrainian official MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKrystal Ball: Elites have chosen Warren as The One; Lauren Claffey: Is AOC wrong about the Electoral College? Poll shows Biden, Warren tied with Trump in Arizona McConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster MORE (D-Mass.), have no current plans to go to Iowa.

And one underdog candidate, Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump touts new immigration policy, backtracks on tax cuts Delaney: 'It feels like some Democrats are cheering on a recession' Delaney shakes up top campaign staff MORE (D-Md.), is practically living in Iowa. Delaney, the only Democrat to have officially entered the race, has already visited the state’s 99 counties and is running advertisements as part of a strategy of jump-starting his campaign with a strong finish in Iowa.

In 2016, Clinton and Sanders lapped a relatively small field, and the race for the Democratic nomination was clearly a two-candidate contest.

The next race is likely to be different, and big-name and underdog candidates alike will be looking for a major jump start from the Hawkeye State’s voters.

“Iowa will play its usual role at winnowing down the field,” predicted Jerry Crawford, a longtime Democratic Party operative in the state who served as an on-the-ground political fixer for Clinton. 

Another reason many Democrats think Iowa will have outsize importance in 2020 is that California’s primary will take place much earlier in the next presidential cycle.

While the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries will all take place first, California has moved its contest up to March.

Given advertising costs in the state, it will be important for candidates to emerge in Iowa to survive through California.

“You’re immediately going into the most important state to campaign in so unless you’re one of those candidates with a ton of independent money you’re not going to be able to create that media buzz,” said Rynard.

Most of the big-name potential Democratic candidates have sought to not advertise possible presidential ambitions with stops in Iowa.

It’s one of the things that made Booker’s comment about his staffer not letting him go to Iowa both funny and telling.

“The reason they’ve been coy and shy until now is that they don’t want to stick their heads out there before they know the best way to reach Iowa voters,” said Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University.

He added that “conventional wisdom also shows that you can’t be out there too early.” 

A poll last month by David Binder Research asked 500 Iowa caucusgoers whom they most wanted to see run for president among Democrats. Biden led with 21 percent, compared to 8 percent for Sanders, 7 percent for Warren, 6 percent for Harris and 5 percent for Booker.

Rynard said reaction to Booker this week was “pretty impressive.” 

“It felt like something I haven’t seen yet this cycle,” he said. “It felt like the last week of a campaign.” 

Iowa is as important as ever, Rynard maintains, and he cautions candidates to forgo it at their own risk.

“Every year where there’s probably some way to get the nomination but it seems awfully risky, so why risk it?”