Today’s party gathering in Cedar Rapids was the largest crowd yet for an Iowa Caucus event, and 19 presidential candidates took the opportunity to impress the key activists who showed up.
For many of the Iowans there, it was their first time hearing in-person from a dozen or more of the contenders.
Starting Line fanned out to ask attendees what they thought of the candidates after the event was over.
The consensus seemed to be that there was no consensus. Many of the White House hopefuls had good moments, but no one ran away with the day. Here’s what they said:
Lily Pumphrey, 17, and Zoe Card, 17, of Pella
Looking forward to her first election she can vote in, Pumphrey was leaning towards Elizabeth Warren, but hasn’t decided on a top 5 candidate list yet.
“It’s cool to get to see them because when you read about them online they all sound really, really similar, but when they get a chance to actually speak, some of them really stand out. It helps to see them and kind of get a better perspective,” she said.
The two couldn’t recall Kirsten Gillibrand’s name, referring to her as the “arm wrestling lady,” but came away impressed.
“I really liked her’s because she made it clear that the issues were important to her, and it was more charismatic in my opinion,” Pumphrey said.
“I really enjoyed Pete’s speech,” added Card. “Just because he included a lot of the issues that I think are important … I would say Warren’s [speech] was really kind of striking because she made a point of going more specific, it felt like, kind of saying it just wasn’t about beating Trump.”
Mike Avenarius, 46, of Dubuque
Avenarius came into the day favoring Warren, however, there were a few other candidates that caught his eye.
“I was preferring Warren, she’s been my top contender for a little while now, but there’s other candidates that sparked my interest today, like Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, and de Blasio from New York– a lot of his ideas are similar to mine,” Avenarius said.
Avenarius felt de Blaiso’s track record in New York City resonated.
“Investing into working people is one of the key things to getting this economy going again,” Avenarius said. “I think de Blasio had the most impactful speech today because he said he wants to invest in working families; he’s doing that already in New York. He wants to invest in leave – paid, sick leave. Those are things that working, two-income families need.”
Bob Henry, 74, of Madrid
Henry said Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar have the drive he thinks the country needs going forward, but he was also impressed by Beto O’Rourke’s enthusiasm.
Of the 19 candidates, Klobuchar surprised him the most.
“She’s got spunk,” Henry said. “She ain’t afraid.”
Henry said he caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he was possibly leaning toward Booker this time around. But he said he’s also intrigued by the thought of a female president.
“I think the country would probably do better,” he said.
Stephanie McCumber, 44, of Newton
“I really like Cory,” McCumber said. “He’s a really good speaker, he fires you up.”
Even though no one sealed her decision during the Hall of Fame, McCumber took note of the candidates she’d like to see speak again by circling them on her program. Among them: Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and Jay Inslee – usa.cpaymentmethods.com.
“I want someone young to motivate young people, so they know voting’s important,” McCumber said.
She said she’s heard a lot of young people around her say they won’t vote because it doesn’t matter, and she hopes they change their mind after listening to the candidates.
Kenneth Krayenhagen, 60, of Davenport
Krayenhagen was impressed with the entirety of the Hall of Fame Dinner, especially with the event concluding just after 5:00 p.m. despite 19 candidates speaking.
“I wasn’t really preferring anyone coming into today, I’m trying to keep an open mind,” he said. “I actually liked them all today, I really just want someone who can beat Donald Trump.”
But one candidate did get on Krayenhagen’s radar.
“The person that really struck me today was Marianne Williamson,” he said. “And I’d read some of her books before, but she had a whole different message. I didn’t know what to make of it, but it was a different message from the other candidates for sure.”
Debra Salowitz, 67, and Neil Salowitz, 68, of West Des Moines
Neil Salowtiz and John Hickenlooper attended college together.
“We just think he’s the best combination of vision and practicality,” said Neil Salowitz. “I think he’d make a terrific president.”
Debra Salowitz thought his executive experience stood out.
“Honestly, we really feel like what we need now more than anything is someone with gubernatorial experience, especially two terms, because they’ve already solved the big problems, dealt with conflicting issues, and I think that kind of consensus building is really critical right now,” said Debra Salowitz.
John Kaiser, 68, of West Des Moines
Kaiser first met Cory Booker at the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2018 Fall Gala.
“As people all left, when it was all said and done, he went back behind the screens where all the wait staff was and he thanked them all individually,” said Kaiser. “I thought, ‘Wow, this guy talked the talk and walked the walk.’”
Kaiser knows that Booker is starting low in the polling, but isn’t concerned.
“You can worry about the poll numbers at this point, but over the years it’s kind of a tradition in Iowa that the people that are leading the polls end up falling off at the end, and the people with the good message that are not doing as well this early surge at the end.”
David Weaver and Emily Weaver, of Rippey
Both of the Weavers were sporting a John Delaney campaign button as they exited the event space, but their minds aren’t entirely made up yet.
“I think he’s running a really strong Iowa campaign,” said David Weaver, of the former Maryland congressman. “I think he understands Iowa. He’s been to all 99 counties and he’s hitting rural Iowa.”
David Weaver described him as a “pragmatic person,” noting Delaney’s opposition to Medicare for All would play well in Iowa.
“I think he understands Medicare for All might not be Iowans’ first choice, but universal health care might.”
Emily Weaver added, “There’s a lot in my heart that says I would love to see a woman president. We have a 7-year-old daughter and I think it’s really great that she will grow up seeing women candidates as a normal thing.”
Electability issues were on her mind, though.
“Even though Democrats aren’t supposed to talk about electability, I would say, in general, rural Iowans may not be ready for people who don’t look like John Delaney, people who don’t sound like John Delaney.”
Joy Gana of Cedar Rapids
Gana was concerned that Joe Biden’s absence seemed indicative of “how important he feels Iowa is. He thinks he’s already ahead and doesn’t really care, maybe.”
Gana is also a Sanders fan, and said a Sanders-Warren ticket would be “the dream ticket” for her.
She likes what Sanders has to say because he brought all of the “big-ticket items to light,” like Medicare for All, gun control, and paying for college.
Linda Foens of Marion
“We thought Cory brought it,” said Foens. “We think he had the loudest, the most lit [crowd]. Super proud of all his organizers and obviously his speech was incredible. So, even though this is my candidate, it’s fun to see a little bit of competition. But also, how campaigns really care about each other, especially Gillibrand and Harris and Cory.”
Asked what Foens’ biggest issue priority was, she named gun reform and began to get tears in her eye. She and her husband, Scott, have one child left in grade school.
“It’s really important that my kids are in school and that they’re safe and that they feel safe. It’s a serious epidemic, it’s a problem,” she said. “The fact that I get the message saying they get to have another training, it just tears up my heart, and Cory, I feel hope again.”
Marjorie Tully of Iowa City
“Vice President Biden is probably my number one choice,” Tully said. “I think at the juncture that we are with, the damage that Trump has done, I think he has the experience to get us back again, and to build our relationship back up with our allies because he already knows the world leaders and he’s spoken with them before. We’re in such a mess right now that I think we need someone with that kind of stature to get us back on track.”
Joellen Megan of Iowa City
“I like Beto O’Rourke,” Megan said. “Every time I see him speak on TV I get the same feeling with his integrity. And he’s really so quick and very intentional to take care of every last question when he’s in area.”
by Jake Bullington, Josh Cook, Paige Godden, Nikoel Hytrek, Elizabeth Meyer, and Pat Rynard
Photos by Julie Fleming