2020 Dems Descend on Iowa 09/21 08:54
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- When Barack Obama marched into the 2007 Iowa steak
fry flanked by 1,000 supporters, skeptical Iowans were put on notice that he
could win the caucus. A dozen years later, a new generation of Democratic White
House hopefuls is looking to pull off a repeat performance to turbocharge their
Saturday's steak fry is part parade, part organizing show of force --- and
quintessentially Iowa. It began as a fundraiser for Tom Harkin's first
congressional bid, where the 53 attendees could buy a steak and a foil-wrapped
baked potato for $2.
Harkin is out of politics now, but the steak fry lives on as a fundraiser
for the Polk County Democratic Party. This year, 11,000 people are expected to
join in addition to 19 presidential candidates. Attendees can listen to bands,
munch on 10,500 steaks or get food from food trucks, a vegan grill or a craft
There are even camping grounds, where supporters of former Texas Rep. Beto
O'Rourke spent Friday night.
The festival vibe has some Iowa activists calling the steak fry the
"Coachella of the Caucuses," referring to the weekend-long music festival in
California. Polk County Democratic Party Chairman Sean Bagniewski said the
event purposely has a "modern twist."
"That's the future of the party --- it's gonna be more women in positions of
leadership, it's gonna be more people of color, and it's going to be more young
people," he said.
But what hasn't changed is the significance of the event for the
presidential candidates. The steak fry comes as a number of candidates are
reconfiguring their Iowa approach.
California Sen. Kamala Harris this week announced she would focus more
heavily on Iowa in hopes of finishing in the top three. Meanwhile flagging
campaigns like that of O'Rourke and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are
campaigning beyond Iowa in an effort to broaden their national appeal.
Bagniewski said that, like 2007, Democrats are looking for someone who can
show they've got the organizational strength to win.
"Everyone wants to beat Donald Trump," he said. "Everyone has a top 5, but
when you actually see that your candidate of choice has 1,000 people supporting
them at the Steak Fry, it gives you more liberty to make that decision."
Over four decades, the event has seen plenty of rock-star moments.
In 2014, the final year Harkin hosted the event, Hillary Clinton returned to
Iowa for the first time since Obama beat her in the 2008 caucuses. She was
welcomed by a jubilant crowd chanting "Hillary, Hillary," as speculation about
a second presidential campaign swirled. With a cheeky smile, she stretched her
arms out to the audience of thousands, saying "Well, hello Iowa. I'm back!"
This year, a number of the candidates will kick off the festivities by
hosting celebrations for their supporters beforehand, featuring everything from
live bands to carnival-style games.
Many are planning an Obama-esque march into the event --- amping up the
pressure on their teams to turn up big numbers to the event, as any flagging
campaigns will be painfully obvious. Campaigns are bussing and flying
supporters in from out of state to boost their numbers, and the Polk County
Democratic Party says they've sold tickets to attendees from 48 states. Former
Vice President Joe Biden is widely believed to have sold the most tickets to
the event, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg not far behind him.
Biden will host what his team is calling "Bidenfest" beforehand, featuring a
bouncy castle, an ice cream truck and bands, and he'll be marching in with a
fire truck and a marching band from a Waterloo-area Baptist church.
California Sen. Kamala Harris will march into the event with striking
McDonald's workers demanding a $15 an hour wage, as well as the Isiserettes, a
local Des Moines drumline that appeared regularly at Obama events, including
the 2007 steak fry and later his inauguration.
But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are
skipping the march into the event. Warren has come under growing criticism from
some of her rivals and her staff has said she's looking at the steak fry as
more of an opportunity to connect with potential new supporters, rather than
organize those she has already won.