In Iowa, Dems see 2020 as head vs. heart mo­ment

Many look not to swoon but to see who can beat Trump

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Thomas Beau­mont

DES MOINES, Iowa — The ro­mance of Barack Obama’s sur­prise vic­tory in Iowa hangs like a cham­pi­onship ban­ner in the minds of Democrats in the state more than a decade af­ter they set him on the road to be­ing the na­tion’s first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent.

But as they be­gin to think about Iowa’s 2020 pres­i­den­tial cau­cuses — in which as many as two dozen Demo­cratic can­di­dates may seek their sup­port — the wist­ful­ness is fad­ing fast.

The same early Obama sup­port­ers who ad­mit to be­ing swept off their feet by the then-Illi­nois se­na­tor are now look­ing steely-eyed for some­one who can sim­ply seize the pres­i­dency from Don­ald Trump.

“We’ve got to go for the greater good of win­ning this elec­tion, no mat­ter what,” said Nancy Bobo, an early Iowa Obama backer who at­tended a 10-year com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 2008 cam­paign at a Des Moines bar this year. “We need to learn to com­pro­mise in a way that moves us ahead, and not keep look­ing back.”

More than a year away, the 2020 cau­cuses are al­ready shap­ing up for many of Obama’s ear­li­est sup­port­ers to be more about their heads than their hearts.

“The in­no­cence in us wants to fall in love,” said Niki Neems, an Iowa City Demo­cratic ac­tivist who pledged her­self to Obama be­fore he even an­nounced his can­di­dacy. “But who­ever we all think stands the best chance, then let’s get out there and start door-knocking. So, for me, it’s OK to just fall in like.”

The shift among Obama’s de­vout sup­port­ers re­flects the bag­gage many of them are car­ry­ing into the next cau­cus cam­paign.

Iowa Democrats uni­formly crit­i­cize Trump as harm­ful to U.S. in­sti­tu­tions and the na­tion’s in­ter­na­tional stand­ing. But there’s also a sense that Hil­lary Clin­ton’s doomed bid for the pres­i­dency be­gan in Iowa, where Democrats didn’t warm to her in the same way they did to Obama.

Neems and oth­ers said that lack of an emo­tional con­nec­tion con­trib­uted to Clin­ton only nar­rowly beat­ing Bernie San­ders in Iowa in 2016, fore­shad­ow­ing the trou­ble she’d face in tak­ing on Trump.

Now, some Democrats say they want to pay less at­ten­tion to their feel­ings and fo­cus more on a can­di­date with a se­ri­ous plan to re­verse Trump’s ac­tions. “Peo­ple can con­nect with some­one as long as they have a vi­sion, have big ideas, and can ex­press them,” said Tri­cia Ze­browski, a re­tired Univer­sity of Iowa professor who was among the first to pledge her sup­port for Obama. “That’s the kind of per­son who can wrest the pres­i­dency from Trump.”

She speaks highly of Min­nesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, hardly a dy­namic speaker on par with Obama.

But Ze­browski said Klobuchar has im­pressed her as em­body­ing com­mon sense and pro­ject­ing lit­tle of the ego that Trump ex­udes.

More than a dozen Democrats weigh­ing 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns have be­gun test­ing their abil­ity to con­nect with Iowans. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker paced the stage at an Iowa Demo­cratic Party fall ban­quet, re­peat­edly quot­ing Martin Luther King in a ser­mon-like speech to 1,200 of the state’s most influential party ac­tivists, of­fi­cials and donors in Oc­to­ber.

There’s a recog­ni­tion among many of Obama’s early sup­port­ers that his rise in Iowa was a unique mo­ment in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, at­trib­ut­able in part to his own per­sonal strengths at re­tail pol­i­tics, his soar­ing or­a­tory and his fa­mil­iar­ity with street-level po­lit­i­cal or­ga­niz­ing, which is key to de­liv­er­ing sup­port for the cau­cuses.

In 2020, Democrats will look to some­one matched specif­i­cally to con­trast with Trump, said Dale Todd, one of Obama’s ear­li­est ac­tivists in the Cedar Rapids area.

“If you try to repli­cate it, it ends up be­ing false,” said Todd, who also at­tended the com­mem­o­ra­tion this year. “The in­tan­gi­ble was Obama.”

And while they are older and wiser, some of Obama’s first devo­tees say change, as it was in 2008, will again be the win­ning mes­sage.

“We’d be kid­ding our­selves if we kept look­ing for Obama in ev­ery sin­gle pres­i­den­tial hope­ful,” said Dei­dre DeJear, Iowa Democrats’ 2018 can­di­date for Iowa sec­re­tary of state who worked on Obama’s 2008 cam­paign as a col­lege stu­dent.

“But peo­ple are ready for change. They don’t know what change looks like. But when it shows up, they know what it feels like.”

JAE C. HONG/AP

Then-Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., ar­rives at a 2008 rally in Des Moines, Iowa. Some two dozen Democrats are think­ing about run­ning in 2020.

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