Iowa Democrats fill events to the rafters with 13 months left before the 2020 caucuses

People stood in parking lots, jostled into front yards and packed into the rafters to witness Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s inaugural appearances here in the first presidential caucus state.

It was part of a trend: In December, the liberal group Progress Iowa doubled the size of its annual meeting from four years ago, with 300 activists eager to participate. In October, Iowa Democrats sold out their 1,500-seat dinner in Des Moines, which featured another potential contender, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

The Iowa caucuses remain 13 months away, but a pent-up demand for change in the White House is tangible among Democrats eager for the 2020 campaign to start in earnest. The throngs of voters bombarding events in Iowa are testament to something fearful for Republicans: The huge tide of Democratic voters who powered the party’s 2018 gains have not lost interest as attention turns to the 2020 presidential race.

“I’ve never been to a rally, but I wanted to for a long time,” said Dan Elliott, as he waited in the ornate Orpheum Theatre lobby in Sioux City for Warren to speak Saturday morning. “I’m surprised by the energy here. The lines are longer than people expected.”

Iowans cited a slew of reasons for their eagerness to begin the lengthy nomination process to settle on a leader to go up against President Trump. There were the tax cuts that one voter called “a waste of time and money”; the trade war with China depressing demand for exports and hurting farmers; the hostility toward immigrants, a labor pool heavily used on Iowa farms; the rolling back of environmental regulations that impact Iowa’s rivers; a foreign policy approach changing the country’s status in the world; and the general chaos and lack of civility in the White House.

“It is never too soon to try to get rid of Donald Trump,” said Shannon Kennedy, a 48-year-old Iowan who stood in line to take a selfie in front of a barn-door-size American flag at the Orpheum Theatre. “There is an urgency to get things back on track. Our country is a laughingstock right now.”

It’s not just Warren drawing interest in what amounts to the widest-open caucus competition since 2004.

Booker was greeted by enthusiastic crowds when he made his first trip to Iowa in early October for the Democratic Party gala. His visit included standing-room-only turnout at an event advertised as a discussion on agricultural issues and hosted in the Boone County Democratic offices.

As Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) gave a speech in Ankeny during her pre-election Iowa tour, she was greeted by a shout: “Run for president!” When she spoke in Iowa City and Des Moines, she filled rooms holding about 500 people.

“They’re paying attention because they don’t think this guy can be reelected,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who has already visited all 99 counties in his presidential bid. “And the takeaway I hear from a lot of Democrats is that 2016 wasn’t a good primary. It was about people going into their camps early. This year, it’s the opposite; Democrats are focused on how we beat this guy in 2020, and they come into the primary process with an open mind.”

Helping to channel some of this Democratic enthusiasm are organizations like Siouxland Progressive Women, one of thousands of groups that have cropped up on the left since the 2016 election.

 

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