Iowans watched from bars, house parties and restaurants tonight as ten Democratic candidates faced off in the first night of the second debate.
Team Starting Line was once again out at neutral debate watch parties organized by Democratic Party groups. Our reporters went to Ames, Des Moines, Keokuk and Winterset to see how caucus-goers reacted to the contentious back-and-forth between the White House hopefuls. Here’s what they thought of the candidates and the policy discussions:
Winterset Debate Watch Party
Lynette Judd, 52, Winterset
Judd was interested in the Medicare for All discussion, and was pleased to hear big ideas being thrown around.
“I agree with the policy idea that it is NOT radical to expect our country to succeed at a Medicare for All policy,” Judd explained. “I also agree that it is due to the way that politics are influenced by big pharma and the for-profit health care industry that, ultimately, hold our country back from creating and successfully managing a full, public health care policy.”
Judd has been most impressed with Warren tonight, namely that she showed a good amount of courage on the stage when the pressure was on.
“I’m most impressed by Elizabeth Warren and her willingness to stand up and out for what she believes is right, as well as having the knowledge, and guts, to move it through,” Judd said.
Judd also said that Amy Klobuchar has pleasantly surprised her tonight, adding that, “she is pulling hard tonight and doing a great job at stating her policy ideas and her experience.”
Chris Jordan, 68, Peru
Jordan was pleased with the back-and-forth of the health care discussion.
“I think we need to have Medicare for all and health insurance for all,” Jordan said. “I also know that Iowa is one of two insurance capitals in the nation; there needs to be a way that we can continue to have coverage through employers for those who already have it.”
In regard to the health care discussion, no particular plan has stuck out as the “right one.” Rather, Jordan thinks the right answer, “is probably a combination of the ideas expressed on stage.”
Jordan has been most impressed with the female senators on night one, but is still open to a couple of the male candidates.
“Warren is coming off as determined and a fighter,” Jordan said. “But Amy Klobuchar also comes off as determined and honest. I am leaning toward thinking that the next president needs to be a woman.”
Jordan did say, though, that Pete Buttigieg and Steve Bullock have both impressed them and are still on their short list. Particularly, Jordan said Buttigieg has the best temperament on stage, and that, “he is correct to say that weapons of war have no place in this country.”
Evy Reed, Winterset
Reed was most surprised with Marianne Williamson’s performance, saying that she seems to have a better grasp on some of the “real” issues than people think, and that, “she spelled it out!”
Reed agreed with Jordan that the gun control discussion was interesting, and that Buttigieg had the most impressive platform on the matter.
“Bottom line, we need to get rid of war-type weapons … there’s no need for them,” Reed said. “Mayor Pete was right to the point.”
In regard to candidate demeanor, Reed was most impressed with Warren and Bullock, explaining that they both, “show they are passionate, but they can also address the issues in a calm, but straightforward, manner.”
Jennifer Frey, St. Charles
Frey was most impressed with Warren, Klobuchar and Bullock, and least impressed with Hickenlooper, O’Rourke, Williamson and Ryan.
“I believe [Warren, Klobuchar and Bullock] respond with the most realistic policy-based ideas, they are sincere, they can point to how they will and can make changes to corrupt political influence in our current government.”
Frey said Klobuchar has the most impressive temperament on stage.
“She seems ready to keep a poised manner with quick and insightful commentary,” Frey said. “It makes me curious to see how she’d do in a debate against Trump, and I am leaning toward thinking she might be able to play off of him the best because of her collectedness and intelligent rhetoric.”
Seth Dickinson, 16, Truro
Dickinson has been impressed with Warren’s attitude on stage tonight, adding that she, “has the best temperament on the debate stage. She is bold, patient, and overall, strong.”
Dickinson enjoyed the Medicare for All discussion, but noted that the differences between individual candidates doesn’t seem to be as big as they try to let on for debate’s sake.
“I felt that the discussion over Medicare for All was a great example of how the Democratic Party has the same end goal, but has a different way to get there,” Dickinson explained. “All the Democratic candidates want to see all Americans on, and under, good health insurance.”
Pat Nelson, Winterset
Nelson came into the second round of debates without giving Marianne Williamson much thought, but was surprisingly impressed with some of the answers she gave when given the chance.
“Marianne Williamson has impressed me,” Nelson said. “You know, she’s got some applause tonight, but she really does seem to have more wisdom than I was giving her credit for.”
Joyce Kooker, Winterset
“I think John Delaney is really onto something,” Kooker said. “I think he has some really good ideas and is able to convey those professionally.”
“Marianne really did say some interesting things tonight,” she added. “I think she’s a kook, but she says stuff the other candidates aren’t willing to say. I can’t possibly support her, but she has a valuable voice in the discussion and on the stage.”
Kooker was impressed with Buttigieg. She said she doesn’t know what his electable potential is, but that he seems very intelligent and has the type of attitude people look for.
Des Moines Debate Watch Party
The Polk County Democrats organized an undecided caucus-goer gathering at Eddy Maroon’s on Ingersol.
Angela Romain, Des Moines
“I’m a public benefits attorney,” Romain said. “What I don’t like is I think Bernie is being disingenuous about the status of Medicare. Because people on Medicare do pay copays, they do have deductibles and most of them do have a form of private insurance called Medigap coverage or Medicare supplement. I don’t like that it’s confusing people. I don’t like it when Republicans do it. I don’t like it when Democrats do it.”
Anthony Spoerl, Des Moines
“Yes, there should be a private option,” Spoerl said of health care. “I lean towards having it mixed with the private option … Climate change is my biggest issue. And systemic racism.”
Beverly Ellis, Des Moines
“Tonight what I will come away with is what Mayor Pete said about him being the first generation affected by gun violence in the schools,” Ellis said. “I’m a retired teacher. Now we have a second generation. Are we going to allow a third generation? So that – I’d never heard anyone put it that way and it really made an impact on me. That is something to think about.”
Bob Raker, Des Moines
“I don’t understand all the issues with Medicare for All that well. They might be wrestling with semantics here on what the definitions of these things are,” Raker said. “Definitely need to fix the health care system, and a key part of it is squaring away drug companies and insurance companies that are sucking the money out of the system.”
“The average voter is just going to throw up their hands,” he said of tonight’s debate.
Randy Henderson, Des Moines
“I’m on Medicare. I think it’s great,” Henderson said. “I’d like to make sure everyone gets insured. That’s the bottom line. Second, I can tell you the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are bullshit. They are out to rob us.”
“The private option only works if you have employer insurance,” he added. “I went out into the market myself for two years to get private insurance and I got screwed big. The private option only works if you’re in a union or if you’ve got an employer that’s provided insurance.”
Keokuk Debate Watch Party
About 10 people gathered at the Keokuk Labor Temple. Though the watch party was unaffiliated with any campaign, several at the event came in already decided on Buttigieg. The campaign had a volunteer here signing people in as they sat down to watch the debate.
Mike Avery of Fort Madison supports South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“He’s young, he’s got great energy and he’s very well-spoken on the issues,” said Avery, who described himself as a “centrist-type Democrat.”
Avery, who said his support for Buttigieg began after his CNN town hall event, appreciated his “Midwest sensibility.”
“I like how he’s conducted himself as mayor,” Avery said. “I think he’s done a really good job there.”
Kassidy Rashid of Burlington said she took a personality quiz in her high school government class that aligned her beliefs closely with Buttigieg.
Rashid, 18, will participate in the Iowa caucuses for the first time in 2020.
“So far, I really like Pete Buttigieg. I like what he has to say,” said Rashid, an incoming freshman at Creighton University. “He’s very articulate and I like that he’s young, of this generation. He makes his points clear.”
Kimber Tinder, of Keokuk, said she saw Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar for the first time earlier this month at the Lee County Democrats’ summer picnic.
“That was my introduction to her and I loved it,” Tinder said. “She really had me hyped up. She used the line, ‘All foam no beer,’ and I was like, yes! Relating, speaking in ways that we can relate as citizens.”
For Tinder, who has been uninsured most of her life, Medicare For All was the best path forward on health care.
“It’s top for me,” Tinder said, of health care concerns. “Right now, my biggest debt is medical.”
In Tuesday night’s debate, Tinder named Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as some who stood out.
“I feel that they speak the reality of things and they know what it’s going to take to get it done, and to get it done quick. That’s what we need,” Tinder said.
Chuck Mitchell of Keokuk called it “a hell of a debate.”
“I like the debates,” said Mitchell. “I find them incredibly instructive.”
Though there were “a lot of good lines” Tuesday night, Mitchell said the discussion on Medicare For All was one of the more interesting.
“I wish Medicare was available flat out,” said Mitchell, who noted its importance for “old guys like me.”
“I think it makes sense to cover everybody.”
Ames Debate Watch Party
Megan Sloat, Ames
“I wonder if anybody has a plan,” Sloat wondered. “They were all over the place. It’s all chaotic to me.”
Susan Norris, 62, Ames
“It makes me feel angry and also frustrated, because while all those candidates are quibbling with each other, Trump is pushing his brand,” Norris said of tonight’s disagreements on stage. “I think it’s a poor use of resources and time. It seems like the lower tiers want to peck at the upper ones.”
She listed Williamson, Delaney, Ryan, Bullock and Hickenlooper as the lower tier.
“We’re wasting time and energy and money by having so many candidates,” she said. “This seems like an exercise in futility to me.”
“Warren does have plans and she is articulate,” Norris noted. “She has what it takes to lead the party.”
Dale Ullestad-Heneke, 66, Ames
“Elizabeth Warren and Bernie were their usual strong selves,” Ullestad-Heneke said. “I like Buttigieg too. I really don’t care for the so-called moderates in the debate, Delaney and Hickenlooper, and does Ryan count? I agree with Buttigieg that Republicans will call us socialists no matter what, so that isn’t an excuse to abandon our progressive ideals.”
He thought that the more direct attacks were only natural at this point.
“It didn’t get nasty or personal at any point,” he said. “It was a very respectful debate.”
He noted that at the end of the day, he’ll vote for the “blue nominee.”
by Josh Cook, Paige Godden, Nikoel Hytrek and Elizabeth Meyer
Photo by Julie Fleming