Believe it or not, presidential candidates occasionally campaign in states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Weird, right?
And as you might expect, the dynamics of events in a place like Chicago, Illinois, where early candidate visits are a rarity, often vary from those in Iowa, where it’s hard to go to your local coffee shop without bumping into another damn White House hopeful.
Recently, two Starting Line reporters attended two Elizabeth Warren events in two different states, a day apart. Isabella Murray dropped by a Warren event on Chicago’s north side, while Pat Rynard checked in with Warren at a typical caucus stop in Marion, a suburb of Cedar Rapids.
Over 3,000 people attended Warren’s Chicago event on Saturday. Around 300 turned out to see her in Marion. Two weeks prior, Warren held a rally 10 miles across town from Marion at a Cedar Rapids school. Warren’s Chicago event was her third visit of the year (she held a town hall in June and attended a teacher labor strike in October).
Warren’s event in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood drew a massive, boisterous crowd.
“Only in Chicago is the big Saturday night entertainment politics,” Warren said, to a crowd that swelled to more than 3,200. The candidate went on and stuck mainly to her stump speech, often subject to interjections from the crowd.
Her swings in both states during the past week went as any ordinary Warren event: the candidate gets introduced by two to three endorsers, volunteers or staffers, she tells the crowd a little bit about her presidential bid and backstory, typically answers randomly selected questions from event attendees who cast a ticket, and finally: she takes selfies with supporters.
But the similarities largely ended there.
Hundreds of supporters from a city with a population of about 2.7 million spanned several blocks in misty, chilly temperatures on Saturday evening in Chicago.
“We are Warren supporters and we love all of her policies. Tonight, in particular, we’re advocating for LGBTQ rights,” construction industry employee Jill Birdwell said, gazing around the crowded room. “My son’s gay, he’s here somewhere.”
Turnout for Iowa events are usually smaller. A swing through Central Iowa the week prior saw a crowd as small as 90 at an event in Knoxville. Last Tuesday, she drew a crowd of around 700 in West Des Moines, inching back to her previous crowd sizes when her momentum was a little stronger.
Lately, she’s moved down a bit in the Iowa polls, while Pete Buttigieg has moved up.
One of her biggest Iowa events was held at the University of Iowa campus in September, drawing a crowd of 2,000, more than a thousand people less than the weekend’s Chicago rally.
Other large Iowa crowds look similar. Sanders and his endorser, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, drew more than 2,400 in mid-November to Council Bluffs, which the Sanders campaign calls Iowa’s largest crowd of the 2020 cycle. Buttigieg’s pre-Liberty and Justice Celebration rally drew 2,300 supporters, according to his campaign.
But a smaller attendance can also produce more meaningful moments and end up being more persuasive to those who do show up.
Warren changed up her approach in Marion, shortening her usual introductory stump speech to just eight minutes and then went straight into Q&A. That allowed her to get in a dozen questions from attendees.
In those, she touched on a wide range of issues and policies, from Central America foreign policy to the electoral college, helping her show off her deep knowledge of just about everything.
But the most important moment came when a young woman asked Warren if she’d ever not been accepted by someone she looked up to. Warren’s voice broke as she talked about her mother’s disappointment when Warren’s first marriage fell apart.
I was asked at a town hall “if there was ever a time in your life where somebody you really looked up to maybe didn’t accept you as much?” Here’s my answer: pic.twitter.com/ariYPwvWQr
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) December 2, 2019
Warren hugged the young woman afterward and shared some private words with her.
When you’re in a crowd of 3,000, even if you’re taking individual questions, the kind of closeness that a candidate can get in moments like this in Iowa are rarely possible.
Attitudes Of Event Attendees
A willingness from event attendees to talk about competing candidates made the town hall in Chicago different from most Iowa events.
Chicago residents Karacan Sayrun-Thomas, Andi Daisy and Linela Pitts said they are leaning toward voting for Warren in Illinois’ primary election in March.
“She has the strongest personality I think. She’s been the same throughout the whole thing. Her temperament hasn’t changed. It’s firm but loving,” Sayrun-Thomas, a social worker, said.
The women said they were not concerned about a lack of visible African American representation in the audience — a finding of some observers’ criticism.
“We’re people of color and we’re supporting her,” said Pitts, who is also a social worker.
The event’s location in the city’s north side is surrounded by significantly lower numbers of black residents than its south and west-side neighbors.
Tamar Manasseh, founder of anti-violence group Mothers Against Senseless Killing, commented on the rally’s distance from her home on the Southside but introduced the candidate with enthusiasm.
Biden currently leads in the polls among black Americans and is still a top contender for Daisy, a nurse who said she would support the former vice president even over a candidate of color like Sen. Kamala Harris.
“Biden was involved in the civil rights movement. It’s like we know him. We don’t know anything about Bernie Sanders,” Daisy said. “I’m not interested in Kamala. She was a prosecutor but she’s still too aggressive.”
Sayrun-Thomas echoed Daisy’s dismal thoughts about the California senator, who has since dropped out of the race.
“She’s very bully-like. I think it’s just the way some people make you feel and some people don’t. I just don’t like the way she makes me feel when she’s on the stage and stuff,” she said.
Residents of the first-in-the-nation caucus state are not ordinarily so frank. At Warren’s West Des Moines rally, Claire Mraz of West Des Moines said she had heard Warren speak before and really enjoyed the candidate, but was still undecided on who to caucus for.
“I want to see as many 2020 candidates as possible,” Mraz said. “We’re just shopping.”
In Chicago, members of the crowd focused on topics like gun control and criminal justice.
Event attendee Arnold Julien had recently returned to his home city of Chicago after resigning his position as Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s regional organizing director in Waterloo.
“I’ve been committed to Elizabeth for a while. I was actually working for Amy and feeling more connected to Elizabeth Warren,” Julien said. “Warren peaked my self-interest for the simple fact that she’s one of the only candidates that talked about structural racism which is really huge, especially in the city of Chicago.”
Now working for an Illinois House district campaign, Julien said he’s focused on advocating for issues affecting black people.
“Human life is the most important thing that we have, so addressing gun violence should be at the top of the list, the number one priority,” he said.
Michael Steinke is a retired Lutheran pastor from Edgewater who said he volunteers for the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit based in Montgomery, Alabama.
“Criminal justice and issues of racism are issues I care about most,” Steinke said.
And Warren took note. In Chicago, she spoke on criminal justice several times, noting the heightened struggles of black Americans trying to get ahead in a country that often has discounted them.
At her earlier event in Knoxville, Iowa, the candidate stayed on widely-reported Iowa topics like paying farmers for environmental services.
“We need to give all of our farmers the opportunity to be the leaders on this planet by making it financially possible for them to do it,” Warren said. “That’s going to help bring in more money into rural America and in turn, into the small towns that are nearby.”
In Marion, the questions covered a very diverse set of in-depth topics, including impeachment, Warren’s plan for Medicare for All, foreign policy as it relates to immigration, personal book suggestions for teachers, gun control, racism and more.
By Isabella Murray and Pat Rynard