Iowa Democrats' 2019 Hall of Fame: Each candidate's best moment
CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia. — Nineteen presidential candidates took the stage at the Iowa Democratic Party's 2019 Hall of Fame event in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, marking the largest event of the caucus cycle so far.
“It’s amazing. It’s like a carnival,” Carrie Ball, 47, a stay-at-home mom from Cedar Rapids, said with a hearty laugh. “You can run into any of them!”
With 1,500 activists and 200 members of the media in attendance, each of the candidates tried to stand out. But with only five minutes to speak — time was kept by loud instrumental music that drowned out speech-droners who ran over — they had to make their cases quickly. Some candidates shortened their standard stump speeches. Others added a bit more flair. And many (but not all) brought huge crowds of supporters with them, who cheered and clapped and rallied for their chosen pick.
"Let's get this party started," said Iowa Democratic Party chair Troy Price, as he kicked off the hourslong event.
Here were the best moment each of the candidates had in their attempts to woo the crowd, in the order of their speeches:
- Watch the candidates at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame event
- Iowa Poll: Joe Biden leads, followed by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s speech built to a crescendo, echoing the theme of his campaign that the election is about more than beating President Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump wants this election to be about him on his terms and his turf. That’s how he wins. We win when we rise with grace and grit, rise with patriotism, love of country and love for one another. We will not stay in the valley of darkness and fear — we will rise,” Booker said.
Booker, D-New Jersey, said he supports abortion rights, an issue that has drawn headlines as states have passed laws restricting the procedure.
“Make no mistake: Abortion is health care and health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-California, began his speech praising Iowa Democrats for winning two seats from Republican representatives in 2018.
“You gave us a shot to save the country,” Swalwell said, referencing U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer. “But I think it is time not just to play defense but to go on the offense.”
The crowd cheered when Swalwell promised to make background checks mandatory for gun purchases across the nation and to create a buy-back program for what he called assault weapons.
“I think we can stop the shooting,” Swalwell said.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, took a shot at his Democratic opponents who are taking a more centrist approach.
“I understand that there are some well-intentioned Democrats and candidates who believe that the best way forward is a middle-ground strategy that antagonizes no one, that stands up to nobody, and that changes nothing,” he said. “In my view, that approach is not just bad public policy, but it is a failed political strategy that I feel could end up with the re-election of Donald Trump.”
Sanders added: “The American people want change — they want real change, and we have got to provide that change.”
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, leaned into her experience as a military combat veteran during her five minutes on stage Sunday.
“I’ll bring a soldier’s principle of service-above-self to the White House, restoring the values of integrity and honor and respect to the presidency,” Gabbard said.
She said her priorities — like enacting "Medicare For All," improving education, rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and improving its water and air — cannot happen without dealing with the cost of war.
“As president and commander in chief, I will end our foreign policy of waging wasteful regime-change wars that have taken so many lives, that has cost us trillions of taxpayer dollars and undermined our national security,” Gabbard said.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg told the gathering he wants to “change the channel” on Trump’s presidency. To do so, he said Democrats need to push back on the notion that values like freedom belong to the Republican Party.
“You aren’t free if you don’t have a living wage in this country,” Buttigieg said. Democrats, he said, need to stop running campaigns on a return to bygone days. "We can no more bring back the '90s than the Republicans can bring back the '50s."
Democrats can only win if they embrace bold ideas: making the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states; treating the climate crisis as a national security issue; and securing the right to abortions, he said.
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U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat and a former prosecutor, tied Trump’s actions as president to various forms of fraud, adding, “There's a rap sheet full of evidence to make the case.”
"He promised health care and then he tried to rip health care away from millions of people. What's that called? Health care fraud. He said he was for working people. Then he passed the tax bill benefiting the top 1% and the biggest corporations in this country. That's tax fraud. He believes the president of Russia and the North Korean dictator over the word of the American intelligence community. Securities fraud. And then he claims to be the best president we've seen in the generation," she said. "Well, I say let's call Barack Obama, because that's identity fraud."
She ended with a line she's repeated often: "I'm here to ask for your support, because I am prepared to make the case for America and to prosecute the case against Donald Trump."
See the closely-watched poll results that indicate candidate strength in the state that kicks off voting in 2020. Des Moines Register
Former U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Maryland, devoted the bulk of his speech to advocating for universal health care in America — but not the Medicare For All plan that many of his rivals have embraced.
Rattling off a list of European countries that have universal health care systems, Delaney said Medicare For All is not the only way to achieve universal coverage.
“The one thing about all those countries whose systems we admire? None of them have a single-payer universal health care system,” he said.
Delaney, who has already been to all 99 Iowa counties, walked onstage to Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
► Where have the candidates been in Iowa and where are they going to be? Find out at the Des Moines Register's candidate tracker.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Democrats should look to his home state to understand how he would govern the nation.
Inslee said Washington’s rising gross domestic product is proof that the state's $15-an-hour minimum wage hasn't hurt businesses. The governor, who has stressed climate change in his campaign, said the green energy sector is the source of economic growth.
“We know the turbines in Iowa don’t cause cancer; they cause jobs,” Inslee said to applause.
"I can tell you that if given this honor (of becoming president), I will wake up every day, I will make defeating climate change the first, paramount duty of the United States," Inslee said.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who has stressed her fight for abortion access in her campaign, returned to that theme Sunday.
“Across this country, right-wing politicians — and a whole lot of men — are making decisions about our reproductive freedom. Now is not the time to be polite. Now is not the time for small steps. Now is the time to fight like hell.”
Gillibrand also took a subtle jab at former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner in the 2020 race, who said recently that he backs repealing the so-called Hyde Amendment, which bans most uses of federal funds to pay for abortions.
Biden previously supported the amendment but switched positions in recent days.
"I don't think there is room in our party for a Democratic candidate who does not support women's full reproductive freedom,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, told the crowd that boxing champion Muhammad Ali allegedly said he’s never been knocked down — he’s either up, or he’s getting up. The same is true of workers, women, the Iowa Democratic Party and the country at large, Ryan said.
“America has never been knocked down — we are either up or we are getting up,” Ryan said.
The congressman repeated his campaign promise that if he wins the Oval Office, he will do everything in his power to restore the middle class by putting together a modern industrial policy for the country.
“We don’t just talk about $15-an-hour. We talk about $30-an-hour and $40-an-hour and $50-an-hour jobs so that if you work hard and you play by the rules, you can make a living in the United States of America,” he said.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang used his five minutes to pitch the universal basic income idea he's put in front of audiences around the state and across the country. He wants the government to give every adult citizen $1,000 every month.
Yang argues that technology will displace workers. What the country needs, Yang said, is economic support.
“Donald Trump is our president today because he got the problems right, but he doesn’t have the solutions we need,” Yang said.
Author Marianne Williamson said Democrats don't need someone who has political toughness to take on Trump. Instead, she argued, they need someone who has a very different way of thinking about politics.
“I want you to know my deep feeling that if you think that our job is simply to find someone tough enough to beat Donald Trump, you are naive about the nature of the opponent,” she said. “Something deeper — something far more dangerous — is going on here than traditional political toughness.”
Williamson said only one thing will counter the fear she said Trump has brought to the country.
"It's not money. It's not just strategy. It's not just anger and it's not just mobilizing our base. It is love," she said. "Last time, we won with hope. This time, we will win with love."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, got applause for her proposal to tax the rich, cancel student loan debt, fight climate change and to protect a woman’s right to have an abortion. But, she said, her campaign, with all of its plans, comes down to one question.
"Who does this government work for? Is it going to continue to work just for a thinner and thinner slice at the top? Or are we going to make this government work for the rest of America? I'm in this fight to make it work for the rest of America," Warren said.
She said her campaign is building a grassroots movement to make that happen — a movement that’s included dozens of town halls, visits to 20 states and Puerto Rico, “and, yeah, we’re coming up on our 30,000th selfie.”
“Why do I have the time to do that? Because I’m not spending my time with high-dollar donors and with corporate lobbyists. I’m spending my time with you,” she said.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper took the stage Sunday to share a grim picture of Trump’s United States.
“We now live in a country where children are taken from their mothers and put in cages. (Where) a woman’s right to control her own body is under constant assault. (Where) the sick and the elderly have to choose between paying their medical bills or their utility bills,” Hickenlooper said. “Donald Trump is the worst president our country has ever had. But defeating him is far from guaranteed.”
Hickenlooper said if he were president, he would grant access to birth control and abortion, support a public option for health care coverage, make a commitment to addressing the climate crisis and create one million apprenticeships to fill the country’s skills gap.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, noted her Iowa-neighbor status in Cedar Rapids.
“I can see Iowa from my porch,” said the candidate, who has been a frequent Iowa visitor for years.
She told the crowd she has an “optimistic economic agenda” that bridges the rural-urban divide and gives people the opportunities she had.
“That is what this country is about,” she said. “No matter who you know, no matter what you look like, no matter what your connections are, no matter who you love, that you can become president of the United States. That is a country of shared dreams. And we have a president that tries to fracture those dreams every single day.”
The Midwest, she said, is the place to mend those fractures.
“What better place to vow to revive the heart of America than in the heartland of America?” she said.
Limiting dark money spending in U.S. elections has been “the fight of my career,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock told the crowd, highlighting a law he signed to increase disclosure of spending in state elections.
He said when he ran for re-election in 2016, he saw advertisements paid for by the wealthy Koch brothers, but when they came up to the new state deadline requiring disclosure of ad sponsors around election time, the ads stopped.
“If we can stop the Koch brothers in Montana, we can stop them in Iowa,” Bullock said. “We can stop them all across this country.”
Bullock said he’s challenged the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and won as a Democrat in a state that voted for Donald Trump.
“The path to victory isn’t just through the coasts — it includes places we lost last election,” he said. “Think about it: Almost a third of your counties voted for Obama twice and Trump. This is about the White House and your statehouse. And if we can’t fire up Democrats and win back places we lost in ‘16, we may as well fold up that great big tent right now.”
Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who invited his wife on stage and introduced her to the crowd, said he's already implemented the policy proposals he and many other Democrats are pitching.
“I run the biggest, toughest, most diverse city in the world. I have 8.6 million highly opinionated constituents — all of them have an opinion,” he said. “But one thing we agree on is putting working people first.”
De Blasio noted New York is implementing universal pre-kindergarten and paid family leave.
“Don't you think you should have that in Iowa and all over the country?” he said. When critics worry about the cost, he told the crowd he says: "There’s plenty of money in this world. And there’s plenty of money in this country. It's just in the wrong hands.”
After noting he just entered the race and didn't have many supporters in the crowd, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, crammed a long list of issues he supports into his five minutes. But none can become a reality unless Washington's broken politics are fixed first, he said.
“Climate change, health care — on all the issues you’ve heard about today — he (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) has said ‘no’ and he has sent it to the legislative graveyard to die," Bennet said.
Among the policies he mentioned on which he hopes the country gets to yes: the “American Family Act.” The act would expand the child tax credit from up to $2,000 a year for families with significant earnings to $3,000 per year ($250 per month) per child ages 6 to 16 and $3,600 per year ($300 per month) per child ages 0 to 5.
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, closed out the last speech of the event by touting his plan to bring new voters into the process and to guard against barriers to participation and attempts to influence the country’s elections.
“First, let’s bring tens of millions of our fellow Americans in through same-day and automatic voter registration. Next, let’s remove every barrier in place: A new voting rights act for this country, no more purges of the voter rolls or voter IDs to keep people out. And let’s restore faith in this democracy by holding accountable those who invaded it in 2016 and then afterward sought to cover up and obstruct the investigation,” O’Rourke said.
He also took time to thank Iowans for the advice they gave him as he has honed his campaign.
“To each one of you that I’ve had the chance to meet at one of our town halls or visits to your community, I’m grateful for the lessons that you have taught me,” he said.