Iowa Democrats host 19 candidates in Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS — It was the largest gathering yet of the candidates who’re seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Many of the 1500 activists and party leaders who were in Cedar Rapids Sunday to hear from 19 candidates aren’t ready to choose one yet.

Early this morning, cheering sections for some of the candidates started to assemble along the sidewalks outside the Cedar Rapids hotel where this afternoon’s event was staged. People encountered bagpipes, free breakfast burritos and lots of chanting. Seventy-year-old Rosemary Picher of Waterloo, who hasn’t chosen a candidate, walked around taking photos of the chaos.

“I hope we’re smart enough about it and we pick a winner,” she said. “I’m thrilled that there are many women running and I want to live long enough to see a woman president, so I’m excited this year.”

Michelle Meyer of Cedar Rapids got stopped as she walked through the mayhem by people asking where she bought her t-shirt. It read: “You can’t buy happiness, but you can indict Trump.” Meyer said she will only vote for a candidate who’s taken that stand.

“There’s so many great ones, it’s hard to decide,” Meyer said, laughing. “We have time yet.”

Marcia Fulton of Creston had already seen four of the candidates in person before she arrived in Cedar Rapids Sunday, but she’s undecided, too.

“It’s just not quite time yet. I love Joe Biden, we’ll have to see,” Fulton said. “I’m more of a moderate than a liberal, so I’m more comfortable in the middle.”

Marcia and Scot Hughes of Cedar Rapids have one thing in mind as they evaluate the candidates.

“In the end, whichever one can beat Donald Trump, they have my support wholeheartedly,” Marcia Hughes said.

Scot Hughes added: “I do have about five or six that I’m looking at pretty closely.”

Anthony Jensen of Cedar Rapids is another undecided Democrats. He and two friends took a few laps outside the venue to get a glimpse of some of the candidates.

“I’m looking for somebody that offers new ideas,” Jensen said. “I probably am not supporting any of the early-on favorites, the names that everybody knows.”

Shortly after one o’clock, Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price stood on the sidewalk outside the hotel ballroom and took in the scene.

“This is awesome and this is really what the campaigns want and what events like this bring out is the ability for campaigns to show their organizational strength, how much support they have on the ground,” Price said, “how well they can organize stuff like this.”

Price and the party staff organized a Sunday afternoon event that lasted just under three hours, honoring a few long-time party activists and rising stars — and featuring five-minute speeches from the 19 candidates. They began speaking less than 24 hours after a Des Moines Register CNN “Iowa Poll” showed Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have emerged as the top tier candidates here. Kamala Harris, who registered at seven percent, was the only other candidate to register above one percent.

Jason Frerichs of Des Moines was living in Red Oak in 2016 and served as the rural outreach chair for Sanders. He’s narrowed his choices for 2020 to Sanders and Warren.

“Whoever looks like they have the best trajectory, the best chance to beat Donald Trump,” said Frerichs. “If you look the latest polling here in Iowa, they’re both neck-in-neck.”

Sanders rallied with McDonald’s workers lobbying for a $15 minimum wage on Sunday morning. During his remarks at the party fundraiser, Sanders said a “status quo” candidate will not 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,” Sanders said, “and that changes nothing.”

Warren told the crowd she aims to make government work for all, not just the “thin slice” at the top.

“Right now in America, there is a real hunger. There are people who are ready for big, structural change in this country,” Warren said. “They’re ready for change and I’ve got a plan for that.”

Buttigieg told the crowd Democrats won’t win by playing it safe or promising voters a return to normal.

“We are where we are because normal broke,” Buttigieg said, “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.”

Harris suggested her background as a prosecutor has best equipped her with the skills to take on Trump.

“He said he was for working people and then he passed a tax bill benefitting the top one percent and the biggest corporations in this country. That’s tax fraud,” Harris said. “…And then he claims to be the best president we’ve seen in a generation. Well I say let’s call Obama, ’cause that’s identity fraud.”

One of the candidates who registered at less than one percent in the “Iowa Poll” joked that the crowd had been “speed dating” with him and the other 18 candidates this afternoon.