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Democrats Campaign in Iowa, Fighting for Attention

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California Senator Kamala Harris used the platform to introduce a new riff, saying she’d prosecuted all sorts of fraud as her state’s attorney general, and that Trump is full of new kinds of fraud: “Health care fraud” for promising to help people and then gutting Obamacare, “tax fraud” for promising middle-class tax cuts and signing a bill that had major cuts for the rich and big corporations, “securities fraud” for becoming deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and as for saying he’s the best president ever, “I say let’s call Barack Obama, because that’s identity fraud.”

Why would 19 candidates trek to Cedar Rapids for less time on stage than a long commercial break? Because 1,400 of Iowa’s most involved Democrats were watching. “It’s fun. You want campaigns to have fun and energy and excitement,” Iowa state Democratic Party chairman Troy Price told me, surveying the scene on the sidewalk Sunday morning. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s organizers had chalked nearby sidewalks with slogans the night before: “We know we’re extra, but Cory’s worth it,” one said. Candidates hugged as they saw each other, some posed for group selfies in the hotel’s hallways. One tense moment occurred when Sanders arrived with his parade of workers through a crowd of Harris staffers, who started chanting, “We deserve a woman president!”

Biden says he skipped the event Sunday to attend his granddaughter’s high-school graduation. He’ll campaign Tuesday and Wednesday in southeast Iowa, but some local Democrats I spoke with are annoyed that he didn’t support the party at this event, and hasn’t spent much time in the state this year. Biden’s withdrawal of support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion services, was a subtheme of the day, with several candidates touting their own support of reproductive rights even as they demurred when reporters asked them to take Biden on.

California Representative Eric Swalwell said to think of the many Democrats running “like the Avengers” of politics. “The Republicans in 2016,” Swalwell added, “that was the Hunger Games.”

There will be at least two more big events in Iowa before next year’s caucuses, not to mention more of these candidate-parades in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. This weekend began the long somersault into next July’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. The party is hoping to get to Wisconsin with its nominee in place, but that’s far from guaranteed. And as for the pundits complaining that there are too many candidates? “That’s a bunch of horse shit; this shows just how much excitement there is on the Democratic side,” Price, the state party chair, told me Sunday morning.

Later, during his introductory speech, Price added to the point by contrasting the Democrats to the Republicans, and the cult of personality he sees within the GOP: “While they’re the party of one, we are the party of many. I am proud to be part of a party that’s about diversity.”

But that party of one—so far at least—is the only one that has a clear idea of what it wants in a 2020 presidential candidate.   

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