IOWA CITY, Iowa – In the final weekend before the Iowa caucus, the leading Democratic candidates offered vastly different approaches to make the same closing argument: One way or another, each said in as many words, they’re the only ones that can defeat President Donald Trump.
Over a dozen stops across Iowa, the four top contenders tried to make the case that their policies, background or experience uniquely positions them to beat Trump in November, even as many downplayed expectations ahead of Monday’s unpredictable caucus vote.
Former Vice President Joe Biden told a subdued group of a few dozen voters in Newton that electability, not ideology, should be the foremost priority at caucus sites. Republicans, he told the crowd, are terrified because “they know if I’m the nominee, I’ll beat Donald Trump.”
A hundred miles to the east, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. tried to present himself as the rightful heir of President Barack Obama and that Democrats needed to cast their eyes toward a more youthful candidate.
“This is no time to take the risk of falling back on someone familiar,” said the 38-year-old to an audience of about 250 people. “Let’s leave the politics of the past in the past, and let’s look at what we need to do to make sure we can move forward.”
The more liberal candidates attracted far bigger crowds. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addressed nearly 1,000 people crammed into a high school gym in Iowa City about her liberal proposals to impose a “wealth tax” and enact “Medicare for All.”
“We’re not going to do this by nibbling at the edges. It’s going to take big structural change. And I’ve got a plan for that,” she said, to a roar of applause.
The biggest Iowa audience of the Democratic campaign, though, went to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who drew more than 3,000 to a Cedar Rapids arena. A free concert from Vampire Weekend didn’t hurt.
“The whole world is asking if the people of Iowa are prepared to stand up and fight for justice,” he said. “All over the world, people are watching to see if the people in Iowa are prepared to help create a government and an economy that will work for all of us, and not just the 1%.”
About that concert ...
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – At stop after stop in Iowa, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has delivered the same stump speech promising tuition-free higher education and an expanded public healthcare system. But until Saturday night, he hadn’t delivered that message to a crowd quite like this one.
He spoke to 3,000 Iowans crammed into an arena on the banks of Cedar River, some ardent Sanders supporters waving “Bernie” signs and others simply there to catch a free concert by Grammy-winning indie band Vampire Weekend.
As he outlined each of his familiar proposals, the crowd quaked in approval, his voice echoing around the arena, which normally hosts indoor football games.
The band, though, might have gotten an even louder reception. At one point, frontman Ezra Koenig asked the audience about a lyric in one of his songs that includes the phrase: “I’m not excited.”
“But I am pretty excited,” he said. “How are you all feeling about Monday?”
A subtle mention of history
OELWEIN, Iowa – Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the first leading presidential candidate who is openly gay, though he has a more subtle way of talking about his sexuality. An event in Oelwein offered an example how.
Near the end of a speech at an auditorium in the heart of this rural city, Buttigieg praised Iowans for a “knack of making history” – the 2008 caucus victory for Barack Obama that kickstarted his presidential campaign and the legalization of gay marriage a year later.
It was the latter that offered him hope he could be a “happily married man” someday, he told an appreciative crowd.
A pulled poll
Des Moines – The hordes of reporters and pundits in Iowa had one eye on the candidates late Saturday and the other on their cellphones for the results of the famed Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register. That is, until the newspaper abruptly canceled its release.
The paper said it was forced to shelve the poll after one of the candidate’s names was omitted in at least one interview by a pollster. Several media outlets reported that Pete Buttigieg’s campaign raised concerns after one of its supporters highlighted the error.
The poll is of monumental importance in Iowa. It’s considered the gold standard of surveys in the caucus state, and CNN planned an hourlong show to present its findings. Instead, the network’s analysts were forced to explain on air why the poll would be scuttled.
One reason its so closely-watched among the political crowd here: Iowans often wait until the final days before the caucus to decide their pick. So the release the weekend before the caucus often gives a front-runner a head of steam going into Monday’s vote.
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