New Themes, Familiar Lines; Candidates’ Changing Iowa Messages

This weekend, most of the field of Democratic candidates returned to Iowa to connect with voters in the first caucus state.

The last time so many were in the state at one time was in early June, at the Hall of Fame Dinner in Cedar Rapids.

Candidates went to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, appeared at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding and a handful showed up to the Passport to Victory in Central City out in Linn County.

So, did they say anything new? The answer is mixed.

Many candidates, even the well-known ones, took time at the Hall of Fame to introduce themselves and to explain why they entered such a crowded presidential field. Even Elizabeth Warren, whose life story top Democratic activists in the state were already rather familiar with, gave a mostly introductory biography speech then.

At the Wing Ding, those top candidates largely drifted away from introductory messages, instead focusing on specific issues that relate to current events. However, their remarks were still mostly filled with familiar lines from their stump speeches.

Tom Steyer and Joe Sestak, who weren’t at the Hall of Fame, were the candidates who took the most time to explain who they are.

Almost all of the candidates took a moment to run through their main policy proposals.

The main two differences at the Wing Ding were the themes of the speeches and the increased focus on Donald Trump, who most avoided mentioning at the Hall of Fame.

Unity, gun violence and white nationalism/supremacy were the main themes that candidates talked about. Many even called Trump out for being a white nationalist/supremacist.

The Front-Runners

Pete Buttigieg, who consistently polls in the top five candidates, has been talking about the problem of white nationalism since the Hall of Fame, and he called it out at the Wing Ding, too.

“There is no national security when we don’t have racial justice, let alone when we have a president who is coddling white nationalists,” he said. “White nationalism is a national security threat to this country.”

However, most of Buttigieg’s speech was his usual main stump speech, with calls to reclaim values like patriotism and freedom for the Democratic Party and mentions of his main policy proposals.

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Joe Biden specifically called out white nationalism and Trump’s role in legitimizing it, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen, presidents, the words they say matter. They can move markets, they can send women and men to war, they can make peace, they can inspire us to reach the moon, they can appeal to our better angels,” Biden said. “But they can also unleash the ugliest, most venal side of society. And ladies and gentlemen…Donald Trump, since he’s become president, that’s  exactly what he’s done.”

That too, though, has been a staple of Biden’s pitch to voters since entering the race. He’s pointed to Trump’s reactions to the Charlottesville protests and violence as a major determination for running again since April.

Kamala Harris has long given an aspirational speech on what America can do better.

“This is a moment in time for us to fight for the best of who we are, and fight we will. And this is not a new fight for us,” she said. “We fight for our country, that’s the nature of who we are.”

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders also talked about the strength of American values and the need for everyone to work together. They also pivoted to their main talking points of making the economy work for everyone in the country, and the need to take on corporate interests.

“I believe Democrats win when we talk about our values,” Warren said.

Other Standouts

Cory Booker, who has started to pick up some momentum in the early states, stood out with one of the most passionate speeches of the evening. He prefaced his time on stage by saying he only wanted to address the recent mass shootings, which was unique among the field that night. Still, even his speech was lines mostly pulled from his lengthy stump pitch, it just only honed in on one issue.

Booker’s voice cracked while talking about how he believed the country can change and eliminate hatred by loving each other. And he told stories about women he’s met who witnessed shootings and told him about how they stayed strong.

“My fellow Americans, we have come this far by faith,” Booker said. “We have overcome worse times and darker moments than this. And now more than ever, we need Americans who will stand up with faith in our country, faith in our ideals, faith in each other, and come together again, and stand together, and work together, and love together and overcome this darkness with our light.”

Most of the candidates addressed gun violence as well, which was less of a focus at the Hall of Fame.

Amy Klobuchar, for example, dedicated a good part of her speech to the shootings in Dayton and El Paso, and talked about how Democrats aren’t afraid of fighting for their values.

“There are not two sides, no there’s not, when the other side is the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists,” she said. “There is only one side and that is the American side.”

For many, familiar lines slipped into their speeches.

Buttigieg called for people to “change the channel” on Trump, Harris talked about how she grew up “surrounded by adults who spent all their time marching and shouting,” Tim Ryan said that America is never down, “it’s either up or it’s getting up.”

Most of the lower-polling candidates gave general stump speeches, the same they’ve been hammering on since June.


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 8/13/19

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