Paris attacks: In Iowa, Democrats call for security, diplomacy

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., arrives at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, to speak with students ahead of tonight's presidential debate. AARON GOULD SHEININ / ASHEININ@AJC.COM
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U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., arrives at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, to speak with students ahead of tonight's presidential debate. AARON GOULD SHEININ / ASHEININ@AJC.COM

Des Moines, Iowa -- A pancake breakfast, that staple of retail politics,  isn't supposed to be a somber affair, but Saturday morning's gathering at Drake University had the air of a vigil after Friday's attacks in Paris.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, met with students here to break bread (plus syrup) and rally students ahead of tonight's Democratic presidential debate. The debate airs at 9 p.m. on CBS and features former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The attacks in Paris on Friday changed the atmosphere. Schultz addressed the attacks right away:

"Our hearts are breaking for Paris and the French people. This is a terrorist attack that is unfortunately becoming more and more frequent, perpetrated by ISIS, and whether it was the attack in Beirut or the still-questionable crash of the the Russian airliner, it is absolutely imperative that we come together globally, those peace loving countries that want to make sure we can protect our national security interests and do everything we can to fight terror and keep our citizens and citizens of peace-loving nations around the world as safe as we can."

Schultz said tonight's debate will go on as scheduled. It's unclear if security around the debate will be increased. A DNC spokeswoman referred questions to university leaders, who in turn referred questions to the Secret Service.

"It is important we hear from those who are seeking to be our commander-in-chief and I’m quite proud of each of our candidates, who understand what’s at stake," Schultz said.

Many students agreed.

Bri Steirer, a senior and president of the Drake University Democrats, supports Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. She said all of the candidates must take care not to politicize the attacks.

We can come together, especially as a Democratic Party and work toward a solution to terrorism that doesn’t put us in a position of going into a way footing right away," Steirer said, who noted that Sanders' vote against the war in Iraq first attracted her to him.

Ben Verhasselt, also a senior, has yet to chose a candidate. He said he will factor the candidates' responses to questions about the attacks into his decision.

"What I’d be looking for is a balance between security and diplomacy," Verhasselt said. "I’d like to see Hillary cite her experience without bringing up Benghazi or past failures. I’d like a more active plan from Bernie. We don’t want to enter another war one day removed from what happened."