Democratic White House candidates look for breakout at Iowa party dinner

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – A cavalcade of 14 Democratic White House hopefuls will make a campaign pitch to thousands of Iowa activists on Friday at a party fundraising dinner that has become known as a launching pad for successful presidential runs.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful, cheer as she speaks at the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S. September 21, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

In the state that kicks off the race to the White House in three months, more than 12,000 Democrats are expected to attend the party’s newly renamed Liberty and Justice Celebration and sample the array of rallies, concerts and parades planned before and after the event.

The dinner, which organizers say will attract the biggest crowd in its decades-long history, comes as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has moved to the top of some polls of the Democratic nominating race in Iowa, passing former Vice President Joe Biden.

Other contenders for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election, such as Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, are battling for prime position in Iowa before the state kicks off the nominating race on Feb. 3.

The dinner will be the last of Iowa’s big multi-candidate political events before then, giving each of the 14 speakers perhaps the last, best opportunity to make a big impression and stand out from the pack.

“It could be a breakout moment for some candidate – we have seen that over the years,” Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said. “It sometimes can solidify someone’s place in the race, or propel them toward the top.”

The event, previously known as the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, is most famous for a 2007 speech and display of organizational muscle from Barack Obama that helped launch him past rival Hillary Clinton to victory in Iowa and ultimately to the White House in 2008.

In 2003, John Kerry’s speech helped him right his struggling campaign and begin a comeback that ultimately made him the Democratic nominee before be lost the election in 2004 to Republican President George W. Bush. In 1975, little-known Jimmy Carter began his run to the White House with a victory in an informal straw poll held at the dinner.


Candidates traditionally woo the dinner crowds with elaborate pageantry, from orchestrated cheering and audience participation to bands, parades and celebrities.

This year, entrepreneur Andrew Yang plans a “Yangapalooza” concert and rally featuring Rivers Cuomo of the rock band Weezer, while Sanders will lead a “march to end corporate greed” to the event.

But the number of candidates at the dinner, which will feature a rapid-fire series of short speeches, and the array of accompanying activities could make it harder to stand out, said Kurt Meyer, Democratic chairman in Mitchell County.

“I don’t know if any single campaign will ever have that kind of special moment again,” Meyer said of Obama’s 2007 performance.

To qualify for a speaking slot, candidates needed to have opened at least two field offices in Iowa or purchased the state party’s voter list, a party spokesman said.

The dinner will kick off a busy weekend of campaigning around Iowa, with three more multi-candidate events including a fish fry planned for Saturday and many contenders fanning out around the state for events.

Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney

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