CEDAR RAPIDS–It was a great night for Iowa Democrats as the state party hosted five announced presidential candidates during its annual Hall of Fame celebration at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex yesterday.
Former Cedar Rapids mayor Kay Halloran, one of seven inductees, received the outstanding supporter award. Congressman Dave Loebsack reminded the audience of her work dealing with the record 2008 flood that had much of downtown Cedar Rapids under water, including significant damage to the venue where first in the nation Iowa held the event.
Lincoln Chafee, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb spoke in alphabetical order by last name.
This post captures fleeting reactions before they disappear into the ether of a busy life. No analysis of policy here. C-SPAN live streamed the event and has the video up here.
Because this is Iowa, I have heard all of the candidates, except Chafee, in person before. This was Chafee’s first trip to Iowa since announcing.
Both the audience and candidates were reasonably “Iowa Nice.” The candidates gave speeches reflecting Democratic values, serving them up like a rarified buffet in the desert of corn and soybeans that is Iowa. The majority of the audience stayed until party chair Dr. Andy McGuire wrapped things up. While Hillary Clinton left immediately after her speech according to reports from the national media, the four other candidates stayed to hear the last words, and some mingled with the audience afterward.
The playing field is not level, despite the use of the alphabet to set the speaker order. It is reflected in how candidates approached their speeches.
Lincoln Chafee and Hillary Clinton were the only two to acknowledge the inductees to the Hall of Fame–the nominal reason we gathered.
Bernie Sanders briefly acknowledged he was in Iowa, and could have given the same speech anywhere and probably has. The audience did not mind, supporters responding as if in church to his every jeremiad. Chafee had a wrestling connection, he was a wrestler and knew of Iowa’s program, Clinton talked about current Iowa issues, particularly the recent closure of two state-run mental health facilities, O’Malley talked about the Newton Maytag closure in the context of NAFTA and his opposition to the TPP, and Webb also briefly acknowledged he was in Iowa. Points to Clinton for weaving important current Iowa issues into her speech.
Clinton and Sanders said very little about their resume to be president. Chafee, O’Malley and Webb spoke about their credentials as if they were applying for a job. Name recognition is always an issue in campaigns, and at this event, Clinton and Sanders had it and could focus their speech in other areas. The others did not and made their case via qualifications.
Chafee, Clinton and O’Malley gave props to President Obama. Sanders and Webb did not. Webb has concerns about the recently negotiated agreement between the P5 + 1 nations and Iran to shut down Iran’s growing nuclear program. He carefully articulated his position without criticizing the president.
The surprise was none of the five mentioned two important words: Tom Harkin. The group of moneyed Democrats who could afford the minimum donation is well familiar with Harkin and how he speaks. Clinton, Sanders and Webb served in the U.S. Senate with him. It was brilliant that Clinton wove some classic Tom Harkin into her speech, talking about how the Republicans want to take the country backwards, and Democrats want to move forward. Clinton didn’t mention Harkin, but her speech reflected Harkin-like phrasing with which audience members are very familiar. From an oratory perspective, Clinton gave the best speech.
There were no “yikes moments” for the five, and only a naysayer couldn’t find something positive in each of the candidates. Next comes the organizing where Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders are ahead of Chafee and Webb. As Loebsack said during his remarks, the caucus season has officially begun.
~ Written for Blog for Iowa