- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa — Some Democrats sound poised to blow a hole in the plot-line that suggests the aggressive far left-wing politics that have dominated the headlines in Washington will rule in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses next year.

They say the best antidote to President Trump is a nominee that can restore a sense of normalcy in Washington and bring the parties together — not an unalloyed liberal that could pour more fuel on the partisan dumpster fire.

For instance, Bill Grove, a former math and physics teacher from Council Bluffs, Iowa, said there is a disconnect between the defiant and unapologetic liberal voices of “The Squad” on Capitol Hill and the Democrats he rubs elbows with on a daily basis.

“I believe in everybody having equal access and rights and stuff like that, and I certainly don’t want to discriminate against anybody, but I think the average voter is right in the middle somewhere,” Mr. Grove said. “I mean if you go back through history, the people that stake out the middle usually win.”

Numerous voters echoed that sentiment over the past week as a crush of Democratic presidential contenders fanned out across Iowa, holding town halls, and meet-and-greets with potential supporters at breweries and coffee shops.

Pete Buttigieg the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey were the clear-cut winners in the field when it came to winding up the party faithful at the annual Democratic Wing Ding Dinner fundraiser.

Voters across the state gushed over Mr. Buttigieg, while also raising concerns over whether voters would elect a gay president.

Mr. Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, meanwhile, were followed by a horde of media and cameras at the iconic State Fair as they signed autographs and posed for selfies with potential supporters.

More than 20 candidates addressed the crowd at the renowned soapbox at the fairgrounds.

They competed for the attention against a backdrop of deep-fried foods and entertainment options that included a museum dedicated the heavy metal band Slipknot and a contest that featured helmeted kids between the ages of three to six trying to ride a sheep for six seconds — only to get tossed onto the dirt, trampled on, and in few instances left in tears.

Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist, said the state fair marks halftime in the Democratic nomination race.

“We have had six months of campaigning, and we have six months ahead,” Mr. Link said. “Right now you’d have to say Biden is ahead at half time, but the only thing that matters is the fourth quarter.”

Indeed, things are so fluid that Mary Lane, 79, and her husband Mike, 82, decided they needed to have a last-minute powwow to collect their thoughts before casting their kernels in the informal corn kernel presidential poll, one of the fair’s traditions.

She dropped her kernel in the Biden mason jar. He went with Mr. Booker, who has struggled in polls, but drew big crowds here — leaving voters impressed with his ability to “speak to people’s souls.”

“I don’t know if I am fully behind Biden or not … but I read in the paper and have heard on CNN and so forth that trump fears Biden, and that is, almost, what is driving me — the possibility of beating Trump,” Mrs. Lane said. “If I walk around for two hours maybe I will change my mind, but I can only vote once.”

“It is just so convoluted right now. I just can’t think of a better word,” the 79-year-old said.

Voters say they want the field to shrink, and have let some of the candidates know.

“When are you going to drop out?” an attendee screamed at Rep. John Delaney of Maryland after he refused to join several of his rivals in labeling Mr. Trump a “white supremacist.”

Allan Simms said he is so indifferent at this point that he cast his kernel without looking — his kernel went to Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

“I just closed my eyes, stopped and dropped it,” he said.

On Sunday, the running count from the unscientific survey showed Mr. Biden leading the field with the support of 25% of those who voted in the Democratic race. Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg were tied in second place with 16%, followed by Ms. Harris at 12% and Sen. Bernard Sanders at 7%.

The tally was closely aligned with a Monmouth University poll released last week showing Mr. Biden leading Ms. Warren by a 28%-to-19% margin.

Voters still see Mr. Biden as a safe pick, though there are lingering concerns about his age, and penchant for verbal miscues.

Ms. Warren, meanwhile, is on the rise — exciting voters that have rallied around her push for Medicare for All, eliminating student debt for most borrowers and a “wealth tax” on the nation’s richest families, which is generally met with enthusiastic cheers.

“I am definitely going to support Elizabeth Warren,” Diane Marshall, 70, said after attending a Warren town hall.

“She has plans. She has energy. She is focused. She has integrity,” she said. “Those are all the good makings of a president, I think.”

Iowa has played the role of gatekeeper in presidential races.

It served as a launching pad in 2008 for then-Sen. Barack Obama, who ran more as an agent of change than an ideological warrior, and scored a come-from-behind victory that is giving some candidates in the 2020 race hope.

Ms. Warren has established a well-respected ground game in an attempt to avoid the fate that befell other far-left champions that fired up activists but ultimately sputtered out — including former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004 and Mr. Sanders in 2016.

“People should not underestimate Elizabeth Warren’s organization here,” said Matt Paul, a longtime Democratic strategist in Iowa. “It is deep and strong and I have not seen it matched.”

The Warren buzz is tempered by the reservations of voters who want to make sure the next nominee can oust Mr. Trump, and her support for Medicare for All push is creating friction. Polls show a majority of Democratic caucus goers prefer a “public option” and a number of voters here saying it is a non-starter.

“We are not ready for Medicare for All,” Mr. Grove said. “You can’t ask 150 million people to give up their insurance.”

“She is barking up the wrong tree on that,” he said.

Voters also question whether the nation is ready to elect a woman as president, whether Ms. Warren’s approach is unreasonable and whether she stylistically comes off as too “fake,” too “brash,” and too rigid on her vision.

“I was thinking about Elizabeth Warren, but when I went to see here I didn’t like her,” said Karen Bruce, 70. “She is kind of a hothead, and she is promising all these dreams that can’t be done — all the free schools and free everything else. Someone has to pay for them.”

Russ Malby said he is concerned that Ms. Warren is “too liberal, too much of a lefty” to defeat Mr. Trump. “By the way, I am also a liberal, but I am also a realist in my judgment,” he said.

The 72-year-old retired Lutheran pastor said his dream ticket would be Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.

“My reasoning with little or no objective data is that Democrats are only going to win if they have a moderate: He is the leading moderate,” Mr. Malby said of Mr. Biden. “They need a little bit of spice on the ticket, she can bring that, not only because she is African American, but because she has a law background.”

Jill Ziegler, of West Des Moines, said she is giving Ms. Warren a look, but said the Democrat’s message is at times off-putting.

Warren, she would be my second choice, but she hates the big banks, and I work for a big bank,” she said with a laugh. “I am just biased like that.”

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