- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2019

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa | The importance of Iowa in picking presidential nominees has been debated in previous election cycles, but this go-round the state is shaping up to be ground zero for both the big shots and the long shots in the crowded 2020 Democratic contest.

A sense of urgency was already on display Sunday as 19 contenders running for the Democratic nomination flocked here for the state party’s Hall of Fame Dinner, all of them hoping to woo the activists and insiders who can make or break a campaign.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is scheduled to be in Iowa later this week, attended his granddaughter’s graduation, leaving the stage open for the rest of the field to make the case for why they are better equipped to defeat President Trump.

“I understand that there are some well-intentioned Democrats and candidates who believe that the best way forward is a ‘middle-ground’ strategy that antagonizes no one, that stands up to nobody and that changes nothing,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

“In my view, that approach is not just bad public policy, but it is a failed political strategy that I fear could end up with the reelection of Donald Trump,” Mr. Sanders said. “The American people want change, real change, and we have got to provide that change.”

The surging Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, warned against “playing it safe, or promising a return to normal” and called on activists to help “bring about a new era” of politics.

“We are where we are because normal broke, and we Democrats can no more promise a return to the ‘90s than Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the ‘50s,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

“The only thing we can do is to look at that show that this president has created — whatever you want to call it reality, horror show, game show and we are going to change the channel to something completely different,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts distanced herself from Mr. Biden’s recent spate of high-dollar fundraisers by calling for structural change to government and stressing her commitment to building a grassroots army that is not reliant on wealthy players.

“I am not spending my time with high roller donors and corporate lobbyists,” she said. “I am spending my time with you. That is how we build a grass-roots movement in America. One that will make a real difference and make real change in 2021.”

The Democratic gathering here came on the heels of a Des Moines Register/ CNN poll that showed Mr. Biden is the top pick of voters in Iowa, but his lead has slipped to 24% of likely caucus-goers.

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren received the support of 16% and 15% of respondents, respectively, and Mr. Buttigieg came in at 14%.

None of the other candidates eclipsed double-digits, but Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who placed fifth at 7%, showed strength in other areas, including being the second choice of many voters.

The rest of the candidates were polling at 1% or less.

Voters in Iowa are poised to send a dozen or more of the White House wannabes home early next year while punching a limited number of tickets that will keep some presidential dreams alive for the first-in-the-nation-primary state of New Hampshire.

“The top tier of candidates have to do well in Iowa, and then for the next tier it is do well in Iowa or nothing,” Jan Bauer, a Democratic National Committee member from Iowa, said before the event.

The cattle call here marked the first time that most of the candidates were in the same place at the same time. It also helps set the table for the first debate of the primary season later this month in Miami.

Campaign volunteers, staffers and activists swarmed the hotel lobby and lined the surrounding streets.

They chanted the names of their favorites and waved issue-oriented signs calling on a variety of issues, including the Green New Deal, “Medicare for All” and “Higher Wages.”

With candidates given 5 minutes each to make their case, Rep Tim Ryan of Ohio joked the forum had a speed-dating feel to it, and told the crowd that if they wanted a second date they could visit his campaign website.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said he backs bold proposals to raise teacher pay, end mass incarceration and expand access to affordable health care,

“Beating Donald Trump is the floor — it is not the ceiling,” Mr. Booker said. “Beating him will get us out of the valley — but it will not get us to the mountaintop.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California vowed to push universal background checks for gun purchases, while Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii vowed to take on “warmongers from both political parties.”

Ms. Harris said she plans to prosecute the case against Mr. Trump for failing to fulfill the promises he made in 2016 to protect health care and fight for the middle class.

“He vows to be the best president we have seen in a generation, well I say let’s call Barack Obama because that’s identity fraud,” Ms. Harris said, sparking raucous applause.

Other Democratic speakers here Sunday were: former Maryland Rep. John Delaney; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; New York Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand; entrepreneur Andrew Yang, author Marianne Williamson; former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Before the event, Rod Sullivan, a board of supervisors member from Johnson County, said the dinner provided more evidence that “Iowa’s role is never going to be more important than this time with all these candidates”

“I will give you an Iowa-inspired analogy,” he said.

“You go through your county fairs, but only so many get to go to the state fair and then only so many get a ribbon,” Mr. Sullivan said. “There are going to be six or seven tickets out of Iowa at the most, probably.”

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