First-in-the-nation Democratic caucus-goers gathered en masse Wednesday night to hear what one round of presidential candidates had to say during the first of two 2020 Democratic debates.
Iowa Starting Line reporters joined the crowds of Democrats gathered in Ames, Winterset, Clive, Altoona, Fairfield, Johnston and Des Moines to see whether any of the ten candidates who took the stage managed to stand out.
Here’s what Iowans were thinking early on in the debates:
Winterset Debate Watch Party
Jennifer Frye, 40, Winterset, Works in Financial Services and Insurance
“There’s four candidates that feel like stood out: Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Julián Castro. I just connect to some of the things they’re saying and the way they’re saying it,” Frye said.
Amy Klobuchar and Julián Castro were the two candidates that Frye wasn’t paying attention to before tonight that she is now.
“I was a fan of Warren coming in, and I think she’s doing a fabulous job. I will say there’s a few that are surprising me with their strength,” Frye added. “I think de Blasio sounds good. I think Inslee sounds good. I mean, Castro sounds fabulous, but he seems a little bit one-issue oriented with immigration. I wish maybe he had a little broader perspective. And I also think Tulsi Gabbard sounds very strong with her military background, she clearly knows what she’s talking about when it comes to foreign policy.”
Lynette Judd, 52, Winterset
Judd thought that Klobuchar stood out tonight.
“You know, I know where she’s from and all of her basics and background, but just that she’s speaking out for policies and specific policies like well, how she’s feeling about healthcare. That’s a big one for everyone,” Judd said.
Sally Wilkie, Winterset, Semi-Retired Pastor
“I came here an Elizabeth Warren fan, and I will leave here still confident that she’s the person,” Wilkie said. “It sounded to me like it was the men who were doing all of the over talk and all that and the women weren’t doing that.”
Clive Debate Watch Party
Holland currently leans toward Warren because she likes her detailed policies and that she knows where the gaps and abuses are in the economy. She’s also impressed by Warren’s working-class background.
“She knows where average people come from,” Holland said.
She isn’t committed, but she thinks Warren is the one to beat. But she’s also been impressed by Klobuchar and Castro tonight. They’ve come on strong and grabbed her attention.
“She knows hogs, corn and soybeans,” Holland said of Klobuchar. Holland also comes from Minnesota and has been impressed by how well Klobuchar has done in elections.
Holland also noted that “de Blasio has brought up some really good points.”
Overall, Holland is impressed by everyone. She was at HOF and some of the people she thought were duds are redeeming themselves.
Des Moines Debate Watch Party
About 30 Democrats showed up to watch the debate in Des Moines, at the Merle Hay location for Polk County Democrats.
Isabelle Yamaguchi, 22, Des Moines
Yamaguchi came into the night with Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren as her top three and has been impressed with Booker and Warren so far on her key issues.
“With the absence of Kamala, Warren and Cory have been very strong against the rest of them. I’m very open-minded this early, polls at this point don’t mean that much. I really think Warren and Booker are coming off very strong with key concerns I have with healthcare and the criminal justice system,” Yamaguchi said.
Lu Ann Pedrick, 64, Urbandale
Pedrick was very open to all the candidates tonight, but has been disappointed in some of the discussion to this point. She has been interested in Warren and Booker up to this point, and said Booker has not disappointed tonight. Pedrick also said Inslee had impressed with some of his answers.
“It’s fluctuated as to who I’m actually interested in, but it’s very clear to me that none of the people that answered the questions about health care understand how health care works,” Pedrick said. “So, I was pretty disappointed in that because I was hoping someone would really get it and be able to articulate it.”
Fairfield Debate Watch Party
Chapin was a supporter of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren coming into the first debate, but noted Sen. Cory Booker came across as “presidential” after the first hour of discussion.
Of her top two candidates, the 67-year-old Chapin said, “Elizabeth has a plan for everything, and Bernie has been calling a spade a spade from day one. Both Elizabeth and Bernie have called out a health care system that I think needs to be turned upside down.”
Altoona Debate Watch Party
Tamyra Harrison, 49, Mitchellville
Harrison, who’s heavily involved in local Democratic political groups, is staying neutral this caucus cycle, but said she enjoyed watching some lesser-known candidates break out during the first hour of Wednesday night’s debate.
“De Blasio is doing a really good job of pushing himself out there,” Harrison said. “I appreciate that he’s not afraid to throw some elbows out there and get his time.”
She also said O’Rourke seems to be having a bit of a tougher time. She thought he was “run over” by De Blasio and Delaney during a question about health care.
Harrison said she hopes to hear something more about student loans yet tonight, because she owes more in loans now than she did when she graduated from college 20 years ago.
“That’s something that affects a lot of people,” Harrison said.
Bill Shackelford, 73, Des Moines
Shackelford gave the big Iowa four as dubbed earlier today by the New York Times —Warren, Booker, O’Rourke and Klobuchar — all C grades for the opening of tonight’s debate.
“There’s a continental drift going on in this nation between free enterprise capitalism and socialism,” Shackelford said. “America didn’t become the largest, most successful nation in recent history because of socialism. We did it because of free enterprise capitalism.”
Shackelford, a likely Biden voter, said he’s opposed to establishing a $20 federal minimum wage, offering free higher education and eliminating public debt for college.
By Jake Bullington, Josh Cook, Julie Fleming, Paige Godden, Nikoel Hytrek, Lauren Johnson, Elizabeth Meyer and Pat Rynard