Steak, beer, pol­i­tics: 2020 Democrats de­scend on Iowa


With march­ing bands, drum lines, hundreds of yard signs and at least one firetruck, Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates made a col­or­ful and of­ten loud pitch to Iowa Democrats at the Steak Fry fundraiser in Des Moines on Satur­day.

The event, a fundraiser for the Polk County Demo­cratic Party and one of the big­gest re­main­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for can­di­dates to flex their or­ga­niz­ing mus­cles in Iowa be­fore the cau­cuses, comes as a num­ber of can­di­dates are fac­ing an un­cer­tain fu­ture in the race and shak­ing up and ramp­ing up their cam­paigns in an ef­fort to break out of the pack.

With thousands of Iowa Democrats brav­ing omi­nous gray skies and in­ter­mit­tent rain, South Bend Mayor Pete But­tigieg, punc­tu­at­ing a sum­mer-long buildup in Iowa, drew one of the most ro­bust re­cep­tions.

To the chants of, “Pete, Pete, Pete,” the on­celit­tle-known can­di­date be­gan his speech jok­ing, “I guess I can cross out the part where it says my name is Pete But­tigieg.”

Like­wise, Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Harris, who an­nounced Thurs­day she is go­ing all-in on Iowa in hopes of a top-three fin­ish, de­spite lag­ging in na­tional and Iowa polls. “I’m mov­ing to Iowa,” Harris thun­dered, al­beit face­tiously, from the stage at a sprawl­ing river­side park in Des Moines.

With just over four months un­til Iowans launch the 2020 Demo­cratic nom­i­nat­ing con­test on Feb. 3, can­di­dates have be­gun sharp­en­ing their con­trasts, par­tic­u­larly with Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, who is build­ing a ro­bust Iowa cam­paign.

But Satur­day’s sprawl­ing political fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing speeches by 19 can­di­dates was more about at­tempts at shows of strength and, for some, more dire ap­peals to re­main in the race.

On Satur­day morn­ing, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker warned he may need to end his cam­paign if he’s un­able to raise $1.7 mil­lion by the end of the third fundrais­ing quar­ter. Booker, who en­tered the race last win­ter with key staff and back­ing from in­flu­en­tial Iowans, also has strug­gled to break through.

“This elec­tion is not an elec­tion about me, it’s a team sport,” Booker shouted, his voice hoarse from the im­pas­sioned de­liv­ery. “And so I’m gonna call to you right now, I need ev­ery­one’s help with my cam­paign.”

Can­di­dates worked to turn out their sup­port­ers in force. Of the 12,000 at­tend­ing, 9,000 of the tick­ets were pro­vided by the cam­paigns. But­tigieg and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den’s cam­paigns com­peted for turnout, with both turn­ing out well over 1,000, as Bi­den hoped to stamp his re­cent place atop Iowa polls.

Part fes­ti­val, part or­ga­niz­ing ex­er­cise, the day­long event was quintessen­tially Iowa, with its roots from vet­eran for­mer Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who be­gan the event more than 40 years ago as a House mem­ber, then later five-term Sen­a­tor, who re­tired in 2015.

Re­vived by the Polk County Demo­cratic Party af­ter Harkin’s re­tire­ment, Democrats of all ages and their fam­i­lies en­joyed the tra­di­tional steaks – 10,500 were grilled by vol­un­teers – but also had the op­tion to or­der from a food truck or visit a craft beer tent.

There was also ar­ti­choke salad and grilled chicken, hardly on the menu dur­ing the Harkin days.

What hasn’t changed is the event’s sig­nif­i­cance for the can­di­dates.


A drum line en­ter­tains the crowd Satur­day at the Polk County Democrats’ an­nual Steak Fry in Des Moines, Iowa.

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