A Democratic U.S. Senate candidate is alleging the Democratic National Committee stacked the deck in favor of presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Iowa debate, filling the room with Clinton supporters, as party officials try their best to secure her coronation.
Tom Fiegen, who is running for Senate in the state, and has endorsed Mrs. Clinton’s rival, Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, in the presidential contest. When he and his staff tried to secure tickets to the democratic debate held in Iowa on Saturday, the DNC told him there were no seats available, in what he believes is punishment for not backing Mrs. Clinton.
“There is a sense the DNC is trying to turn this into an inevitable coronation, and it rubs people the wrong way,” Mr. Fiegen said. “People are frustrated at how small the [debate] venue was and the lack of transparency from the DNC of how it was handled — the allocation of tickets was a total secret.”
Mr. Fiegen has repeatedly tried to contact the DNC for an explanation and never got a call back, he said. In the days prior to the debate, he was on the Drake University campus, where it was held, and Clinton supporters were selling tickets, only adding more insult to injury.
“There’s this sense it doesn’t matter, that the contribution class runs the show. What’s happening on the ground in Iowa is reinforcing that feeling,” Mr. Fiegen said.
The DNC didn’t immediately respond to comment. It has, however, been faced with criticism in this election cycle not only from Mr. Fiegen. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has blasted the DNC over what he considers to be a “rigged” debate schedule and for the party’s rush to back Mrs. Clinton.
“Four debates and only four debates — we are told, not asked — before voters in our earliest states make their decision,” Mr. O’Malley said at the DNC summer meeting in August. “This sort of rigged process has never been attempted before.”
Mr. O’Malley has also said he thinks it’s a “big mistake” for the party to lend such support to Mrs. Clinton, so early on in the nominating process.
“I think it’s a big mistake for us as a party to circle the wagons around the inevitable front-runner,” Mr. O’Malley has said.
Mr. Fiegen agrees.
“Here in Iowa, people don’t decide on their presidential candidate until after they see you a third time — they want you to be in their living rooms,” he said. “We’re open-minded, we’re independent. But come this cycle, the DNC is trying marginalize this ability — it’s trying to stage manage this whole thing to get through Iowa to get Hillary a win. The DNC is not allowing the Iowa caucus process to work.”
Mr. Fiegen says he’s been to meetings in 91 of Iowa’s 99 counties this cycle, and although no Sanders supporters have been excluded, there’s confrontation brewing.
“The Hillary people have been in the trenches for 30 years, and the Bernie supporters are overwhelming young people,” Mr. Fiegen said of the meeting dynamic. “There’s this sense from the establishment, people they’re losing control, they’re losing out in the numbers. When the Bernie kids attend, they outnumber the older Hillary supporters. Those older established people are panicking. You can see the sense on their faces they’re losing control.”
Mr. Fiegen says the dynamic is not unlike the 2004 cycle, where Mr. Obama pulled off a surprise victory in Iowa after Mrs. Clinton led in the polling.
“It seems like Groundhog Day all over again,” Mr. Fiegen said. “But this time, the establishment is even more frustrated. By God, they’ve paid their dues, Clinton served her time as Secretary of State, traveled the world, and they’re thinking ‘By God, it’s our turn.’ But Sanders is drawing more people. If he can get those 20-somethings to turn out for the caucus like he does for his events, then he wins Iowa.”
“All campaigns received the same amount of tickets,” DNC spokesman Eric Walker said in an email. “The Sanders campaign distributed tickets to their supporters at their discretion.”
Mr. Walker declined to say whether all of the tickets to the debate were given to the candidates and if not, who the remaining tickets went to.