Best get your tickets now for the annual Iowa Democratic Wing Ding Dinner on August 10 because it’s going to be a wild night. With the unexpected news that Story Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti will attend – and that he’s thinking of running for president – the speaker line-up got quite interesting. Expect an extra contingent of national news reporters to be hanging out in the booths at the Surf Ballroom to take in the curious move from the high-profile thorn in President Donald Trump’s side.
The evening itself may serve as the perfect preview of the competitive free-for-all that is the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. And it’ll show how unpredictable the Iowa Caucus could be with an unprecedented mix of familiar and unconventional candidates.
Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio is making another big Iowa appearance here after speaking at last year’s Polk County Democrats Steak Fry. He just hired Pete D’Alessandro, the former congressional candidate and Bernie Sanders adviser, to help him navigate Iowa, a clear sign that Ryan is serious about running for president. Ryan will likely be one of several Democrats hoping to claim the Sanders mantle as the progressive choice, but each face their own challenges of lighting that same kind of spark that Sanders had. Just adopting many of the policies that the Vermont senator won’t be enough, so it’ll be interesting to see how Ryan starts to distinguish himself.
Congressman John Delaney of Maryland will be on his 13th trip to Iowa when he speaks at the Wing Ding for his already-declared presidential campaign. He too brings several traits that we’ll probably see in many 2020 hopefuls. He’s a lesser-known Democrat who might get dismissed were it not for the wide-open nature of the field that’s giving anyone a real chance. He’s independently wealthy thanks to his successful business career and can self-finance – we’ll probably see a lot more of that in 2020 from Democrats. And he’s running on an expressly non-ideological message, centering his pitch largely around economic innovation. With a crowded number of contenders looking to prove their progressive bonafides, counter-programming with a more moderate or pragmatic message may help one stand out.
New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang will have the largest stage yet of his early presidential bid that’s focused on the Universal Basic Income idea. Few have heard his name at this point, but watch for Yang to become part of the conversation in the months to come. He has the personal finances to spread his message and fund a campaign, while the Universal Basic Income proposal has slowly been gaining attention among progressive activist circles. Concentrating your message on one key issue worked well for Jason Kander in Iowa (voting rights) before he turned his sights to the Kansas City mayor’s race, and it could help Yang get some consideration despite being a total unknown at this point.
And finally, Michael Avenatti‘s interest in the race could signal that Democrats will see a influx of unconventional, celebrity-based candidates in 2020. Avenatti has turned Trump’s best weapon against him – cable news – to stay in the spotlight and harass the president for many months after most figured the Daniels news cycle would end. Democrats who watch a steady dose of CNN and MSNBC each day could give these people a real look for the caucus. My observation at political events has always been that a certain segment of the Democratic base is just as open to a celebrity-like, rabble-rouser candidate as Republicans were for Trump, even if they don’t want to admit it.
The one major kind of candidate we’re missing? Any of the likely front-runners. Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand continue to keep Iowa at arms length during this early stage of presidential speculation. And all of this intrigue about unconventional candidates making a splash in Iowa may not matter at the end of the day if Harris simply runs away with the nomination over a fractured field. But it’ll still all be fun to watch.
The Wing Ding Dinner itself is a rather unique fundraiser in its setup. Dozens of Democratic county parties, most in rural Northern Iowa, combine their efforts to put on the event each year. Those county parties then split the ticket sales, providing a nice boost in funds to smaller party organizations that couldn’t pull in big-name speakers like this on their own. Avenatti should certainly help boost turnout this year for the fundraiser held in Clear Lake.
Get your tickets here if you haven’t yet. Your very own Starting Line will be moderating a panel as well this year.
by Pat Rynard