Saturday May 18, 2024

A year from Iowa caucus 2020: Democrats pour into early-voting US state

February 03, 2019

WATERLOO, United States: Even as bitter cold ravages several US states, the 2020 presidential race is heating up in Iowa, where Democrats both renowned and unfamiliar are seizing early opportunities to engage critically important American voters.

One full year before the first-in-the-nation voting contest for nominating who will take on incumbent Donald Trump, White House aspirants braved dangerous sub-zero temperatures this week to present their presidential pitch on hallowed political ground.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio was among the hopefuls making the pilgrimage, testing a pro-worker theme for a possible campaign.

"Whether it’s labor, whether it’s environment, whether it’s women’s rights or LGBT rights, I will always be there as a progressive," Brown said Friday to dozens of people crammed into an elegant brick home in Waterloo, on his first trip to Iowa to explore a presidential bid.

Brown casually worked the room, learning attendees’ names, posing for selfies, denouncing Trump’s "phony populism," and deftly switching between football talk and policy priorities -- building relationships that could make or break a campaign in the coming year.

Brown says he will decide in March whether to run for president. Several hopefuls have already officially entered the fray, such as US senators Kamala Harris of California and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Both rushed to Iowa recently after launching their bids to become the nation’s first female commander in chief.

Yet another senator, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, announced his candidacy on Friday and will troop to Iowa next week, while congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was slated to kick off her presidential campaign Saturday.

Several more are mulling jumping in, including former vice president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, ex-congressman Beto O’Rourke, and multiple current and former governors and mayors.

The Iowa caucuses -- the peculiar series of precinct meetings across the state where people get together to discuss candidates before casting their votes -- are set for next February 3.

But the groundwork is well underway, and the state’s residents are relishing their quadrennial period in the spotlight.

While the big names may draw the lion’s share of national attention, Iowa is all about retail politics, and its residents will not stand for anyone phoning it in.

"We are not impressed by stadium candidates," 60-year-old Erin Rial, who works for an animal feed company near Fort Dodge, said at a meet-and-greet with candidate John Delaney.

"We want to get to know candidates over time. We want to look them in the eye."

Delaney, who in 2017 became the first prominent Democrat to enter the race, has been getting to know Iowans for 18 months now, fine-tuning his message of political moderation and his call to "restore a sense of moral aspiration to our politics."

Delaney barely registers on the national radar. But he has visited Iowa 22 times, holding more than 250 events, many of them like the one on Thursday night in Fort Dodge.

As if a scene in a Norman Rockwell painting, Delaney was visible through windows of the brightly-lit TC Mae’s Family Diner, making his political pitch to 17 voters and three restaurant staff.

"Once you get on the map here, the whole country knows who you are," the confident Delaney, a former congressman and successful businessman from Maryland, told AFP.

"We need a problem solver as our president and that’s one of the reasons I’m running."

So, will Democrats choose an outsider like technology entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who this week in Iowa warned of automation’s impact on American jobs, or an experienced statesman like Biden to do battle with Trump?

And will likability -- that elusive quality that helped propel Barack Obama into the political stratosphere -- be the factor voters seek, or will ideology rule the day? Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, says it is too early to tell. But he is already impressed with the caliber of candidates, and his fellow Iowans’ passion for the process.

"Iowa in particular is a place where you have to convince people to go out on a cold night ... and talk about why you are the person to lead our party forward and the person to lead our country forward," Price said in an interview at the Democrats’ non-descript office in Des Moines.

Price added Iowans tell him they are prepared to elevate a nominee who is "authentic and true to who they are," and who can bring the fight to Trump.

Ultimately, the heartland state is "literally a level playing field" that will set the bar for 2020, noted Sue Dvorsky, a former Iowa Democratic Party chair who remains a key political influencer in the state. "It isn’t about who has a chance in Iowa, it’s that everyone has a chance in Iowa," she said.