Low-Polling Democrats Seek Breakout Moments at Iowa State Fair
(Bloomberg) -- Andrew Yang waved around a half-eaten turkey leg as he calculated how many such treats one could buy with the $1,000 a month he’s proposed giving to Americans. Tim Ryan jokingly joined the hordes asking Kamala Harris for a photo before handing his small son over for a photo with her. Kirsten Gillibrand brought her son, Henry, and his new stuffed sloth, Blueberry, onto the soapbox stage.The Iowa State Fair is a rite of passage for presidential contenders, but for the lowest polling candidates in the record-size field, the event took on an extra level of urgency.It was perhaps their final attempt to gin up extra attention and support as they seek to qualify for the September Democratic debate in Houston. If candidates fail to qualify -- and only nine have so far-- they might start heading off the field.So even though the State Fair itinerary for politicians is steeped in traditional routines -- speaking from the Des Moines Register Soapbox, flipping burgers with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, visiting the famed 600-pound butter cow, and biting into some fried food on a stick -- candidates were looking for any way to stand out.‘Best Week’Asked on “Fox News Sunday” if his campaign was faltering, Ryan, a Representative from Ohio, said, “We’ve literally had the best week of our campaign,” citing the state fair.Others struggled to rise above the crowd.“I’m standing out by enjoying myself and having fun eating all the delicious food and watching my 11-year-old having a total blast,” said Gillibrand, a New York senator, who’s yet to hit either the fundraising or polling qualification threshold for the Houston debate, as she walked down the main concourse of the fair in sun hat and flowery dress.But it was the frontrunners who clearly stood out.Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the two poll leaders in Iowa, drew the largest crowds at the soapbox and could barely make their way through the crowds as voters muscled in to get a selfie and cameras hovered in front of their faces.Wealth TaxWarren, who operatives say has the strongest Iowa field operation, was greeted with rapturous applause when she spoke about her proposed 2% household tax on wealth over $50 million and 3% on wealth over $1 billion. Dozens of Warren organizers -- most wearing “I’m a Warren Democrat” T-shirts-- also dotted the crowd, seeking to connect with voters and gather their information.Meanwhile, candidates like Ryan and Gillibrand mostly made their way through the crowd unnoticed. When one fair-goer walked by the soapbox and was told Gillibrand was speaking, she asked, “Senator Jill Brown?”Ryan similarly faced name recognition problems: “You might not know who I am,” he said on the soapbox. “I’m Tim Ryan.”The Iowa State Fair rarely vaults an unknown candidate into the top tier or dooms a front-runner. But with hundreds of reporters in attendance and the chance for candidates to speak from the soapbox and exhibit their retail politicking skills in the crowds, it’s one of the only marquee candidate events in sleepy August. About one million people typically come through the gates each year.‘Reaching Out’“If you don’t come to the Iowa State Fair and participate then there’s a perception that you’re not reaching out to everyday Iowans,” said Scott Brennan, a former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. “It’s an opportunity to get your face in front of a lot of people.”Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, the once-rising star of Democratic politics who hasn’t yet broken out of single-digits in national polls, skipped the fair to stay in his home town of El Paso, the site of one of last weekend’s deadly shootings. He paused his campaign but indicated he will return to the trail.The latest Iowa poll released on Thursday by Monmouth University showed Biden maintaining his lead with 28%, but Warren has steadily closed the gap, earning 19% support. They are followed by Harris, the California senator, with 11% and Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, with 9%.But, as voters baked under the hot sun and listened to candidate after candidate on the soapbox, they shared a resounding message: the field is full of good candidates, but there are too many in the race.Candidate Overload“After this, there’s a lot of them that should be going,” said Arlee Brunsvold, a 77-year-old from Moingona. “Half of them should be going because they haven’t hit their niche yet.”Longtime Democratic operatives agreed, saying they’ve heard complaints about the field being too unwieldy. The two candidates debates so far, in Miami and Detroit, were each held over two nights to accommodate the many Democratic hopefuls.“Just talking to traditional Iowans who attend the caucuses, they are just sort of waiting because the field is so large they can’t really differentiate between the candidates,” Brennan said.However, Democratic voters also said they appreciate the role some low-polling candidates have played in bringing new ideas into the fold. Many said they hope some of those policy proposals would make it into the Democratic Party’s platform next summer, whoever the nominee is.Ultimately, though, it was clear to fair-goers who would be in the race for the long haul.“You can tell the staying power of her versus the staying power of Tim Ryan,” said Sharon Teale, 62, of Altoona, after Harris and Ryan spoke at the soapbox. “There were hardly any people here. You know right away unfortunately. Tim Ryan has good suggestions. Tim Ryan will be dropped.”\--With assistance from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.To contact the reporter on this story: Tyler Pager in Des Moines at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at email@example.com, Ros KrasnyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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