Two days, three rallies: The Michigan Daily visits top three candidates' events ahead of Iowa Caucus

Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 6:04pm

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — In the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucus, Democratic presidential candidates have crisscrossed the state. 

They’ve held rallies and town hall events and met voters in their own living rooms. They’ve mobilized voters to knock on doors. They’ve even sent surrogate supporters to energize voters in cities they can’t reach themselves. 

The Daily attended three rallies for three different candidates with significant support in Iowa in the weekend prior to the Iowa caucuses. Here’s what we saw. 

At Sanders caucus concert, young supporters ‘feel the Bern’ 

More than 2,000 people gathered at the Horizons Event Center in suburban Des Moines, Iowa Friday night for the Bernie Sanders Caucus Concert, featuring popular indie folk band Bon Iver. 

At the rally, a crowd of primarily young voters drank beer and ate burgers while standing facing a large stage. 22-year-old Allie Hoskins from Marion, Iowa, stood near the front of the crowd with a group of friends. She caucused for Sanders during her first election in 2016, and couldn’t wait to do it again on Monday. 

“It was just really fun and I’m excited for it again,” Hoskins said. “Hopefully I can instill that energy among my peers because we don’t do it as much as we should. Historically, we have the lowest turnout rates in the country, year after year, election after election. And this election is probably the most important for people our age.” 

Two Iowan folk bands kicked off the event, followed by speeches from documentary filmmaker and activist Michael Moore — a one-time University of Michigan student originally from Flint, Mich. — and Nina Turner, national co-chair of the Sanders campaign. 

Moore, who’s been campaigning in Iowa for Sanders, spoke about the similarities he’s seen between Iowa and his fellow Midwestern home state of Michigan. 

“I’ve seen Flint, Michigan, all across this wonderful state. I’ve seen and talked to so many people who are struggling to get by or tired of the old way and want something new,” Moore said. “And it’s no surprise to me that Bernie Sanders, for the last three-for-two, has been polling number one here in the state of Iowa.” 

Sanders had planned on attending the rally himself, but was unable to leave Washington, D.C. in time after the Senate’s impeachment trials of President Donald Trump on Friday. In a phone call lasting about 10 minutes and broadcast through the event center’s speaker system, Sanders spoke to the crowd about several of his platform points, including reforming the criminal justice system, ending the war on drugs and banning assault weapons. 

“We will do exactly, in our campaign, the opposite of what Trump is trying to do. He is trying to divide the American people,” Sanders said, receiving loud cheers from audience members. “We are gonna bring our people together, Black and white and Latino, Asian American, Native American, gay and straight — we’re gonna bring our people together.” 

He underscored the importance of Monday’s caucus — seen throughout the world as an omen for which candidates will do well in the forthcoming primaries, and eventually, on a national stage.  

“On Monday night, the entire country and in fact the entire world will be looking at the great state of Iowa,” he said. “And my humble request from you is to do everything that you can to make sure that our friends and neighbors come out and vote.” 

Following Sanders’s speech, progressive Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal and Ilhan Omar, who have all endorsed Sanders as their pick for Democratic nominee, took the stage for a short panel discussion about their work in their own communities. 

Later in the discussion, Jayapal brought up Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, and crowd members began to boo at her mention. 

Panel moderator and Des Moines school board member Dionna Langford jumped in, saying, “We’re not going to boo, we’re classy here.” 

But Tlaib interjected: “No, no, I'll boo … You all know I can’t be quiet. No, we’re going to boo. That’s all right, the haters will shut up on Monday when we win.”

Tlaib has since apologized for her response on Twitter, writing the “movement deserve(d) better.”

Following the panel discussion and a short speech from Jane Sanders, the senator’s wife, Justin Vernon, the Wisconsin-born front man of Bon Iver, took the stage for a solo acoustic set. 

“I was learning more and more about this caucus on Monday and it’s so important to get out the vote,” Vernon told the crowd between songs. 

Enthusiastic Warren supporters admire campaign’s empathy 

A rally for Senator Elizabeth Warren at the Coe College Kohawk Arena in Cedar Rapids garnered about 700 supporters early Saturday afternoon.  

The enthusiastic crowd included one supporter, Mary Sullivan, who came dressed as the Statue of Liberty. 

“(Warren’s) got health, she’s got experience, she’s got humanity. She takes good ideas and gives credit to the people who came up with them. She sees the whole picture and the details of how to make it happen,” Sullivan said. 

Sullivan has been volunteering with the Warren campaign since this summer and will be a precinct captain for Warren on Monday. She said she felt a little burnt out the other day after so many door-knocking shifts, and was amazed when an organizer called her to check on her mental health. 

“I’m like, thank you! Is there another campaign that’s doing that? No!” Sullivan said. 

The event began with speeches from a Coe College sophomore and Iowa state representative Liz Bennett before U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. got the crowd ready for Warren.

Warren took the stage next, answering questions from the crowd and speaking about the need to rebuild the government so it works for all Americans. 

“Fighting back is an act of patriotism,” Warren said. “Think of it this way: We fought back against a king to build this nation. We fought back against the scourge of slavery to preserve this nation. We fought back against the Great Depression to build the economy of this nation. And we fought back against fascism to protect our democracy in this nation. We are at our best when we see a big problem and we fight back with big, structural change.”

Though Warren had to rush off to her next campaign event following her speech, her dog Bailey Warren made himself available for selfies and petting from supporters. 

Brenda Macalister, a volunteer at Warren’s Cedar Rapids rally, said there were a lot of reasons she supported Warren. But as a nurse and the mother of a daughter who belongs to the LGBTQ+ community, the candidate’s healthcare reform plan and support of LGBTQ+ rights topped the list. 

“This is the first time I’ve really volunteered,” Macalister said. “This is the first time I’ve really jumped in with both feet for a candidate.” 

Macalister will be giving a speech in support of Warren at her precinct Monday night. She said this year’s caucus feels more important than ever before. 

“We have to defeat Donald Trump this year,” she said. “We just have to.” 

Biden appeals to moderate voters at cozy gymnasium rally 

Just two miles from Warren’s Cedar Rapids rally on Saturday afternoon, supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden crowded into the gymnasium of Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy for an intimate community event. 

David Ritter, a University of Michigan alum and high school teacher in Chicago, came to Iowa to check out the scene leading up to Monday’s caucus. In addition to attending the Biden rally, he planned to see Buttigieg and Sanders speak as well. He “probably” supports Biden, though. 

“He’s got the best chance of beating Trump,” Ritter said. 

Still, he said he sees a generational divide when it comes to who supports which candidate. 

“A lot of my students like Buttigieg, especially, and Bernie Sanders,” Ritter told The Daily. “Bernie Sanders has a lot of charisma that Biden does not. But I think Sanders is the road to disaster for the Democrats. Because people will see him as a socialist and say, ‘That’s too much of a risk, I’m going to go with Trump.’” 

The Biden rally began with speeches from Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, who discussed Biden’s history of public service and dedication to union and middle class voters. 

Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons, along with the state’s representative-at-large Lisa Blunt Rochester and former Secretary of State John Kerry, also attended the rally in support of Biden. 

In a 45-minute speech to attendees, Biden discussed his support of union workers, the need for unity between political parties and the importance of sensible gun policies. 

Like the other candidates, Biden asked Iowa voters to caucus for him, but emphasized the importance of voting Democrat in the 2020 election, no matter who becomes the nominee. 

“It’s always a big responsibility. Maybe it’s presumptuous of me to say, but I don’t think you’ve ever had a bigger responsibility than at this time,” Biden said. “Not because I’m on the ballot, not because I’m running, not because I’m one of the people speaking to you but because of the man who’s president.” 

Reporter Maya Goldman can be reached at mayagold@umich.edu