Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in August at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. Warren has promised that farmers would be involved in any climate change solutions put forth by her administration, if she was elected president.
CLEAR LAKE -- A few of the presidential candidates brought the jam-packed room of Iowa Democrats to their feet.
Some attempted to draw contrasts between themselves and the rest of the crowded field. Some described what kind of candidate they think is needed to defeat Republican incumbent President Donald Trump. Some appealed to Democrats’ sense of hope and optimism.
But everyone got their chance. Twenty-two of the Democratic presidential candidates spoke Friday night at the Surf Ballroom and Museum, site of the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, an annual fundraiser for a group of county party organizations and one of a handful of Iowa events that gives the candidates an opportunity to speak to a room full of likely Iowa caucus participants.
Event organizers said they sold 1,600 tickets, and between event staff, campaign staff and media, the Surf Ballroom likely was near its 2,100 capacity Friday night.
“Most of these folks you know are going to be caucus-goers, so you can really target your money at these kind of events that are maybe even better than the state fair or other public events,” said Patty Judge, a former state agriculture secretary, lieutenant governor and candidate for U.S. Senate.
“These multi-county Democratic events --- this is kind of the granddaddy of them all --- are great opportunities to connect one-on-one or to an audience of very likely caucus-goers,” Judge said. “So this is great.”
If audience reception is any indication, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren made the most of that opportunity Friday night. Each received especially rousing ovations during their remarks.
Buttigieg did not stray far from his common campaign speech, but a few moments captured the audience’s enthusiasm. He said Democrats should not cede to conservatives values like freedom and faith.
“Values like freedom are not conservative values. They are American values, and today they have progressive implications,” said Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Buttigieg sent an even bigger jolt through the crowd when he said Democrats must not play into Trump’s hands by participating in what Buttigieg described as a reality television show.
“If you’re on his show, even when you’re winning, you’re losing,” Buttigieg said. “Which is why we’re going to pick up the remote and change the channel.”
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Booker strayed far from his stump speech, using his 7 minutes (allotted to each candidate) to address the aftermath of the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. He said next year’s presidential election is “one of those moral moments in our nation that’s going to define the character of our country,” and brought the audience to their feet when he called on Americans to come together, stand together and work together to “overcome his darkness with our light.”
“This is the call of our country, and it is time for the United States of American to rise again,” said Booker, a U.S. Senator from New Jersey.
Warren spent much of her time talking about her newly announced policy for rural America, but excited the crowd when she went to her campaign speech staple of calling for a government that benefits the many, not the few.
“We’ve had enough of an America where the government works better and better and better for a thinner and thinner slice at the top,” the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts said. “2020 is our chance we can make this government work for all of America.”
The national Republican Party in commenting on the Wing Ding took the pun path.
“2020 Democrats will continue to wing it in Iowa as they look to scramble the pecking order ahead of the February caucuses. Unfortunately, Democrats hoping to appease their base are too chicken to offer real solutions that will benefit Hawkeye families,” national party spokeswoman Preya Samsundar said in a statement. “Iowans will have no problem crying fowl as 2020 Democrats offer more egg-scuses.”
The scene outside the Surf Ballroom before the event was bombastic, with many of the presidential campaigns lining the street, displaying support for their candidates.
The mood outside turned somber shortly before the program when the campaigns came together for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the recent mass shootings.
The brief ceremony was organized by the Beto O’Rourke campaign. O’Rourke canceled his campaign appearances in Iowa this weekend, including the Wing Ding, to remain in his native Texas.
Most of the campaigns were represented at the ceremony, and eight of the presidential candidates participated.
Iowa state lawmaker Ako Abdul-Samad spoke. In addition to honoring those who died, Abdul-Samad called on Democrats to unite to win elections so they can enact gun safety measures. He encouraged the campaigns to turn to each other after the moment of silence, hug one another and say, “I love you and we can win this.”
James Lynch of the Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this story.