Footnotes on the 2020 Caucus: 19 candidates and a blimp

Footnotes on the 2020 Caucus is an occasional series observing some of the traditions, rituals and oddities of the Iowa presidential caucuses.

This year’s Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame (HoF) celebration was a record-setting event. More presidential candidates attended and spoke to the assembled party activists and elected officials than any previous year. In part, that’s because there are more candidates this year than ever — 23 at last count — but it’s also an indication of Iowa’s power.

Nineteen presidential hopefuls were at the DoubleTree in downtown Cedar Rapids on Sunday for the three-hour ceremony. That’s five more than attended the California Democratic Party Convention the previous weekend.

While California will send 495 delegates to the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Iowa only has 49 on offer. California also moved up its primary this year — polls open exactly one month after the Iowa caucuses, and early voting in California will start the day after caucuses.

But whatever attraction an earlier primary in California may exert on candidates, it hasn’t been able to match the gravitational pull of the Iowa caucuses. Of course, success breeds its own problems, and there are so many candidates wandering through the states, it’s a challenge for most Iowans to keep track of who is running.

Little Village will post videos of each candidate’s five-minute HoF speech in its entirety, so readers can hear what issues of the candidates think are most important.

But before the weeks of serious rumination over the candidates’ speeches start, Little Village would like to share with its readers some of the sights and sounds of Sunday. (And in the case of Joe Biden, the sights not seen.)

Out in the streets

Supporters of Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The sidewalks on both sides of 1st Avenue in front of the Hilton Doubletree were filled with chanting supporters for the candidates.

The sign-waving, megaphone-wielding crowds were loud and enthusiastic, but well-behaved.

Beto O’Rourke supporters in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“Everybody was good,” a Cedar Rapids Police officer who was on crowd control told Little Village after the event was over.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren appeared to have the largest number of supporters in front of the venue, filling stretches of the sidewalks on both side of street.

Supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Sen. Bernie Sanders took a different approach, asking supporters to gather at the 1st Avenue McDonalds for the Fight for $15 rally to support higher wages for fast food workers. Sanders spoke at the rally, and the plan called for the demonstrators to a march to the Doubletree. And march they did, just not from McDonalds.

The restaurant is more than a mile from the hotel and the weather was hot, so five chartered buses, all equipped with air-conditioning, transported everyone to Cedar Rapids City Hall.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and members of Fight for $15 march in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

From there, Sanders helped lead the parade, which covered the three-tenths of a mile between city hall and the hotel.

A man who wasn’t there

The podium at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Jason Smith/Little Village

The most notably absentee among the four candidates who skipped the trip to Cedar Rapids was Joe Biden, whom the national press was calling the front-runner for the nomination long before he declared his candidacy. The former vice president has been at the top of the candidate polls since the primary season began.

In the most recent Iowa Poll, published the night before the HoF, Biden was in first place with the support of 24 percent of the poll respondents. But that’s a decline from December, when he was the first choice of 32 percent of Iowa Poll respondents.

On Monday, Biden told a group of lobbyists and campaign donors in Washington D.C. he didn’t go to the HoF for family reasons.

“My granddaughter was graduating [from high school]. It was my daughter’s birthday,” Biden said. “I would skip inauguration for that.”

Biden, who seldom misses an opportunity to remind listeners of his connection to Barack Obama, added a detail to that explanation during a campaign stop in Davenport on Tuesday.

“Her best friend is Sasha Obama,” Biden said of his granddaughter. (Like Biden’s granddaughter, Sasha Obama graduated from Sidwell Friends School on Sunday.) The former vice president added, “Barack and Jill and the whole family, we had a whole get-together.”

Biden also skipped the California Democratic Party Convention. And unlike the other 2020 candidates, Biden has not been holding town hall-style meetings, or taking questions from the audience at the end of his speeches.

So far, the former vice president’s speeches have heavily relied on anecdotes he has often related during his 47-year-long career on the national political stage. The speeches have also attracted attention for his frequent repetition of certain words, most notably “folks.” During his May campaign stop in Iowa City, Biden said the word at least 40 times in 35 minutes.

16,280,000 to one

John Delaney at the Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame celebration, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

While Biden has done relatively little campaigning and is still on top of the polls, John Delaney’s experience is almost the exact opposite. The former Maryland congressman was the first Democrat to declare his candidacy, filing his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Aug. 1, 2017.

According to Smart Politics, “Announcing his campaign 1,194 days prior to Election Day, the three-term Maryland U.S. Representative shattered the mark for the earliest bid in the modern primary era by a non-fringe candidate.”

Delaney has spent more time campaigning in Iowa than any other candidate. He’s the first — and, so far, only — candidate to campaign in all of the state’s 99 counties. In February 2018, he became the first 2020 candidate to run a campaign commercial on television in Iowa.

Despite all that, Delaney has been stuck at one percent in the Iowa Poll.

On Sunday, Delaney tried to get attention by bringing a blimp to the HoF. As campaign workers were trying to guide the blimp, they were stopped by hotel staff, who were concerned about what would happen if it should slip away from its handlers.

Delaney campaign blimp being turned away at the DoubleTree in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019 — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The Delaneyites looked disappointed as they dragged their prop back outside.

Delaney campaign blimp leaving the DoubleTree in Cedar Rapids, June 9, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Delaney does have one advantage most candidates don’t: he’s very wealthy and willing to put his own money into his campaign. During his final year in Congress, Roll Call ranked Delaney as the sixth wealthiest member of the House of Representatives. Using data from federal financial disclosure forms, Roll Call estimated Delaney’s net wealth at almost $93 million.

Delaney has loaned his campaign $16,280,000, which accounts of 89 percent of the total amount of money his campaign has raised so far, according to the most recent campaign finance disclosure from the FEC.

Get the hook

A man displays a sign outside the DoubleTree in Cedar Rapids, during the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration, June 9, 2019. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Because there were so many candidates, HoF organizers imposed a time limit of five minutes on each speech. Prior to the event, a veteran observer of Iowa politics suggested to Little Village that the candidates would voluntarily observe the time limit. HoF organizers clearly didn’t share that optimism.

Like the producers of the Oscars, organizers decided to use music to shoo candidates off stage if they exceeded their time limit. More than half the candidates did.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, Gov. Jay Inslee, Rep. Tim Ryan, author Marianne Williamson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Sen. Michael Bennet all got the musical hook.

Music to the candidates’ ears

The musical choices of candidates has attracted some attention during this election cycle. Much was written about Beto O’Rourke’s time in a punk rock band and his choice of The Clash’s “Clampdown” as his standard walk-up music for campaign events after the kick-off of his campaign in March. Political reporters have also realized that Elizabeth Warren’s walk-on music “9 to 5” is more than just an upbeat Dolly Parton song. It’s also a sharp critique of managerial capitalism.

To give everyone who wasn’t at the HoF, or huddled in front of their TVs watching C-SPAN’s coverage, a sample of what was heard in Cedar Rapids, Little Village compiled a Spotify playlist of the candidate’s walk-up music.

Candidates in order of appearance at the HoF and their walk-up music

Cory Booker: Bill Wither, “Lovely Day”

Eric Swalwell: Rodney Atkins and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, “Caught up in the Country”

Bernie Sanders: John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, “Power to the People”

Tulsi Gabbard: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

Pete Buttigieg: Panic! at the Disco, “High Hopes”

Kamala Harris: Mary J. Blige, “Work That”

John Delaney: Johnny Cash, “I’ve Been Everywhere”

Jay Inslee: Electric Light Orchestra, “Mr. Blue Sky”

Kirsten Gillibrand: Lizzo, “Good as Hell”

Tim Ryan: Lil’ Nas X, “Old Town Road”

Andrew Yang: Mark Morrison, “Return of the Mack”

Marianne Williamson: Stevie Wonder, “Higher Ground”

Elizabeth Warren: Dolly Parton, “9 to 5”

John Hickenlooper: One Republic, “Good Life”

Amy Klobuchar: Dessa, “The Bullpen”

Steve Bullock: John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

Bill de Blasio: The Clash, “Rudie Can’t Fail”

Michael Bennet: Bruce Springsteen, “The Rising”

Beto O’Rourke: The Clash, “Clampdown”

Perhaps the strangest choice on the list is Bill de Blasio picking “Rudie Can’t Fail, a Clash song inspired by the “rude boys” of Jamaica who challenged their society’s status quo in the 1960s. De Blasio has said The Clash is one of his favorite bands, but why the current mayor of New York City would want people to hear “Rudie Can’t Fail,” when one of his most famous predecessors was fervent Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani, is a mystery.

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