We’re headed into another major Iowa Caucus moment as the Democratic field gets ready for Friday’s Liberty & Justice Dinner in Des Moines. With over 12,000 people attending, it’s expected to be the largest Democratic Party gathering in the country before next summer’s national convention.
The Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall dinner, once known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner (or “JJ Dinner”), has a storied history. During the 2003 and 2007 contested Democratic caucuses, it served as a major breakout moment for John Kerry and Barack Obama, respectively.
Every candidate on stage Friday evening hopes they fill that role this year, using it as a chance to springboard themselves into the final three months of caucus campaigning with renewed momentum. With all the national press in town, they’ll also want to tout their organization in Iowa, and most candidates are holding large rallies and marches beforehand.
There won’t be a free Katy Perry concert like there was with Hillary Clinton in 2015, but there will be plenty of live music, block parties and campaign busses on nearly every street corner. You can also expect over-the-top sign wars around every entrance and skywalk headed into the venue.
This year, the main event will be held at the Wells Fargo Arena (where the Iowa Wild play), a change from the Hy-Vee Hall convention center across the street where it has been recently.
Fourteen candidates in all will be speaking on stage that night. It’s easier at this point to just list who isn’t: Tulsi Gabbard, Marianne Williamson and Joe Sestak. Candidates were informed well ahead of time that to qualify for the stage, their campaign had to show an investment in organizing in Iowa, either by a certain number of field offices and staff or the purchase of the state party voter file.
The program for the Liberty & Justice Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., but festivities start well before that in a several-block radius around Wells Fargo hours beforehand.
Here’s a helpful map from Starting Line that lays out where each candidate’s pre-rally/event site is located, which you can also pull up separately here.
Forget about the LJ Dinner, Andrew Yang’s pre-party, aptly named Yangapalooza, sounds like fun enough in itself for the day. He’s holding a concert just across the river at the Brenton Skating Park, which will feature Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and comedians Nick Guerra and John Nguyen. The Yang Gang will then make their way over the bridge and up the hill to the event site.
Yang is also one of the only candidates currently advertising an afterparty — they’ll be getting together at West End Salvage from 11:00 p.m. to midnight.
Multiple candidates are hosting large marches with chanting and cheering fans into the arena. Every campaign likes to make a big show of force before the multi-candidate events, so watch for these candidates to pull in as many supporters as possible to project strength.
The largest march will likely be with Bernie Sanders, who held a similar walk in with a drum line before the 2015 JJ Dinner. This time, he’s calling it a “March to End Corporate Greed,” starting at 5:30 p.m., linking it to the series of town halls he held across Iowa this past week. Sanders’ campaign will bring in supporters from all over the state on busses.
His supporters, however, won’t head into the arena. Sanders is holding a separate gathering in Hy-Vee Hall at 7:00 p.m., just across from the LJ Dinner, where his backers will enjoy food, live entertainment and watch Sanders’ speech on a livestream. There was controversy during the 2015 JJ Dinner when Sanders’ section of supporters emptied out of the event before Hillary Clinton spoke, though that was in part due to the delayed start of the event and the preset departure time of their busses.
If you need to keep your blood flowing on the cold day, head over to Kamala Harris’ pre-event block party to dance to the beat of the Isiserettes [Update: this has now been moved indoors, to Room 316 in the Events Center]. The famous Des Moines drill team and drum corp will pump up Harris’ team, and we’ll likely see the senator show off her dance moves as she did at the Steak Fry. The Isiserettes also led Barack Obama into the event twelve years ago.
Harris’ event will have music, food trucks, games and a performance by The Voice contestant and Des Moines native Sharane Calister.
Amy Klobuchar will host a party of her own over at the event space Forte (where this reporter had his wedding reception at) just south of the arena. The doors open there at 4:30 p.m., the speaker lineup for the rally in the parking lot starts around 5:15 p.m., then the march should happen sometime around 5:45 p.m.. The campaign bus that Klobuchar has rode around Iowa on this fall will also make a prominent appearance.
You can also hang out with the Klobuchar crew back at Forte following the LJ Dinner, where they’ll host an afterparty. Their music for the evening: a Prince cover band.
Beto O’Rourke will be gathering his supporters for a rally in Rotary Park, right next to the river and by one of the main pedestrian bridges at 4:00 p.m. They’ll have a short march up the hill to Wells Fargo Arena.
You’ll be getting your steps in for the day if you head over to Pete Buttigieg’s pre-rally at Cowles Commons, the candidate event furthest from the main venue — about five blocks south. But that also gives them plenty of room to muster what is expected to be a very large force of Buttigieg supporters. Over the weekend, his campaign will host a two-day organizing summit to train for caucus night.
Finally, you can rally inside the convention center with Joe Biden starting at 3:30 p.m. in Ballroom B.
Pre-Game With Delaney
If waving signs around and walking/marching outside in the cold isn’t your thing, head on over to Buzzard Billy’s for a “pre-game” with John Delaney and his campaign. They’ll have free food and beer from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m that you can enjoy in warmth inside. The Delaney bus will pull up near the end of the party, when supporters will head up the street for the main event. There’s a lot of speeches that night, so it might not be a bad idea to have a few drinks in you to get through it.
Klobuchar’s party is also in the same building as Delaney’s event, so you can easily hit up both right after each other.
A couple of candidates are focusing their time beforehand on training and organizing their best activists and supporters. Both Cory Booker and Steve Bullock will hunker down with their Iowa friends in rooms in the convention center beforehand.
Booker, as part of their Hype, Hope, Hustle organizing focus, will use the event to highlight what their local organizers are doing, have supporters fill out postcards to other Iowans and sign up for volunteer shifts. Bullock will similarly do a “Grassroots Summit” to huddle with their activists for trainings and to help prepare their best supporters for caucus night.
For Julian Castro, it’s all business in the run-up to the LJ Dinner. He’ll be spending his time touring the YMCA supportive housing facility, just several blocks away from the arena, to talk about this policy ideas for affordable housing.
While Michael Bennet won’t have a formal rally, his crew should be plenty visible around the events center. Watch for the large hammer/gavel from the Steak Fry to make an appearance again.
We’ll update you as more information from the remaining candidates become available.
by Pat Rynard