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Summer Presidential Candidate Weekend

Elizabeth Warren not speaking for a moment at sunset. Iowa City, Iowa, Sept. 19, 2019

Even a grumpy Gus takes in the hoopla of the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating process going on in Iowa this weekend.

Ann Selzer’s Iowa poll, released last night, shows the top tier of candidates has been reduced to two: Elizabeth Warren with 22 percent, and Joe Biden with 20 percent. Warren’s lead is within the four percent margin of error for the poll.

The next nearest competitors begin with Bernie Sanders at 11 percent and results rapidly descended from there. If these results persist, and I believe they will, the two tickets out of Iowa, arguably the most important ones, belong to people who are definitely Democrats, and could be supported by rank and file.

The reason I get grumpy about Iowa presidential politics is it’s the rank and file that matter most. Despite thousands who traveled to the Polk County Democrats fall steak fry, and largely felt positive about our prospects in the general election, most rank and file Democrats don’t attend these sorts of political events.

A study of my precinct election results reminds me President Obama just barely won his 2012 re-election campaign here, and Donald Trump won in 2016. In 2018, Fred Hubbell beat Kim Reynolds by a handful of votes. I don’t know if this is a swing district or one that is steadily turning more Republican. While I work toward the former, it may be the latter and I’m just in denial.

To put the weekend — with its multiple forums, town halls and the big speeches by 17 presidential candidates at the steak fry — in context, there was enough news for rank and file to be aware of the activities. Hopefully there is or will be engagement in the selection process.

Elizabeth Warren’s rise to Iowa poll leader is due to the smart and challenging work of a campaign organization led by Janice Rottenberg. Rottenberg led the effort that gave Hillary Clinton the nod in Iowa in a close 2016 race. Her experience is paying dividends for Warren. My interaction with Rottenberg has been limited, but she is the type of person who makes the campaign interesting, engaging and sometimes fun. She knows how to “dream big, work hard and win.” Her campaign staff and volunteers have been enthusiastic, smart and accommodating whenever I encountered them. They listen.

I heard Warren speak in public twice this cycle. A key reason she is gaining traction in Iowa is her ability to frame the campaign as one of people first in a way that is meaningful. She is an excellent speaker with an engaging personal story to tell, one that includes her fight against corruption in politics and her plan to fix it if elected president. Because she has been in the public eye at least since 2012 when she was elected to fill Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat, we know she is as good as her word.

Warren stayed after her speech in Iowa City on Thursday to meet with individual voters and take a photo with anyone who wanted one. That meant an evening with voters (and staff) that continued until 11 p.m. This type of personal campaigning has been hard to do for presidential candidates spread thin over the four early states and the immediately following Super Tuesday ones. The only other candidate I’ve seen stay around like this to shake hands is Joe Biden. A personal connection with voters contributes to Warren and Biden leading in yesterday’s poll.

On the last day of summer I feel good about backing Elizabeth Warren in the February Iowa caucus. Because of her smart work and persistence, she seems increasingly likely to win the most convention delegates. With yesterday’s poll it seems clear she will get one of the tickets out of Iowa.

My comment from Facebook account: “IMO a single poll doesn’t mean much this far out, even if it is Ann Selzer. As I mentioned in my post, Warren’s lead is within the poll’s margin of error. It is accurate to say Sanders has slipped, not only in the polls. He began with a very strong list of 2016 supporters (~ 70,000, I heard), some of whom have become refugees to other candidates, including Warren, Buttigieg and likely others of which I don’t have visibility. I don’t see him picking up new support. I am skeptical of the “different kind of campaign” because when I discuss with Pete organizers and supporters, I don’t see much different about it. I will say Buttigieg’s supporters are very enthusiastic. As I said in my post, I’m more interested in rank and file Democrats than in people who engage in all the forums, speeches and events of this past weekend. What they do will determine the two or three tickets out of Iowa in February.

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