Early Scenes At Drake Before The Democratic Debate

Photo by Julie Fleming

The entire political world is focused on Drake University in Des Moines tonight as six Democratic candidates take the stage for the final debate before the Iowa Caucus. The debate itself doesn’t get underway until 8 p.m. tonight, but several hundred reporters have already camped out on campus.

Before these major media events in Iowa, there are usually significant theatrics beforehand as every campaign and political group strives to draw attention. However, on this January evening that quickly got very cold, there was a limited number of demonstrations out on the streets. A lot of the pre-events that preceded the November 2015 debate at Drake were missing.

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Still, lots of loyal supporters of candidates showed up in the cold, as did advocates for the poor and immigrants.

Campaigns Make Noise

Amy Klobuchar’s team was the first to organize. They were standing in snow banks on Drake University’s campus beginning around 4 p.m., about four hours before the debates were set to begin.

Their chants of “Every race, every place, every time, win big!” and “It’s time for a woman in the White House” rang out across campus. 

Photo by Julie Fleming

Klobuchar’s husband, John Bessler, addressed the the sign waivers at 5 p.m., thanking them for being out in the cold. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also joined the group.

Pete Buttigieg’s team was fired up ahead of the debates. There was an ice cream truck on hand with a picture of the Mayor’s face on it.

Photo by Julie Fleming

Before their chants began, a team member reminded the group to stay positive and they kicked things off with a “Mayor Pete All The Way” chant.

Other folks out early included a woman dressed as Uncle Sam who was holding a “Dump Trump” sign and a man riding a tractor sporting blue Donald Trump flags.

Photo by Julie Fleming

At one point, the tractor got stuck on the road in front of Klobuchar’s team because a car was waiting to make it past some barricades into campus. 

The car behind it laid on the horn and didn’t quit for several minutes.

The Andrew Yang team also showed up to this intersection later, and had a small showing of their own across the street from the Buttigieg and Klobuchar groups.


This debate was actually pretty calm in comparison in 2015, with fewer protests taking place on campus.

The Poor People’s campaign marched onto campus at 5 p.m. They started their march across the street and held a rally in front of Old Main on campus.

Photo by Julie Fleming

Featured in their display was a casket with “A Right To Live” on it. The group said 250,000 people die every year because of poverty, and demanded political action from the presidential campaigns.

Photo by Julie Fleming

They had a rotation of speakers as they moved around campus, eventually settling near where the campaigns were set up. The Poor People’s campaign was also sporting a number of signs, including ones that said “fight poverty, not the poor.”

Also joining them were some folks from the Fight for 15 campaign, pushing for a minimum-wage increase. They’ve been on campus before during this cycle, when they showed up to demonstrate outside the AARP candidate forum over the summer.

Some Latinx immigration advocates were on campus as well, pushing to get Vice President Joe Biden to commit to stopping deportations. They started with some chants outside of Carnegie Hall (right next to the venue for the debate) but were ushered away when folks started checking into the event.

Photo by Julie Fleming

These demonstrators were holding up bulb-lit signs spelling out ‘Stop Deportations’ and engaged in some chants as they moved around. Once they were ushered away from the venue, they ended up across the street from the Knapp Center, with a mariachi band, turning some of their chants into songs.


by Josh Cook, Paige Godden and Pat Rynard
Posted 1/14/20

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