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Political News

Buttigieg, Castro Resonate With Crowd At Progress Iowa Corn Feed

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Kate Payne/IPR
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South Bend, Indiana Mayor Buttigieg was the only candidate at Sunday's Progress Iowa Corn Feed event to receive a standing ovation from the crowd of about 1,000 attendees.

About a thousand left-leaning Iowans weathered 90 degree temperatures in Cedar Rapids Sunday to hear from ten Democratic presidential candidates at Progress Iowa’s annual Corn Feed event. Each of the presidential hopefuls had about ten minutes to make their case.

The event was another opportunity for candidates to appear back to back in front of a large audience of likely caucus-goers. The lineup included a slate of candidates still hoping to simply introduce themselves to Iowans, and struggling to carve out 1 or 2 percent in the polls, amid a field of some two dozen contenders.

Attendees included former Maryland U.S. Rep. John Delaney, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, writer Marianne Williamson, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Ohio U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Many of the candidates gave a version of their political origin story before vaulting into a speech on what it takes to beat President Donald Trump, as well as their personal stances on healthcare, climate change, economic policy, immigration and abortion access.

"If we embrace a left-wing agenda, the president is going to say we're socialists and we're for open borders. If we adopt a conservative agenda, the president is going to say we're socialists and we're for open borders. So we might as well just stand up for what we believe in and take it from there!" - South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg

South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is currently the highest polling of the group and seemed to resonate the most with the crowd. He called on Democrats to not just return to a pre-Trump political era, but to transcend it.

“Coming from the industrial Midwest in my own community, normal didn’t work. Normal hasn’t worked the entire time I’ve been alive. And so we cannot promise a return to the '90s or the 2000s any more than the president can keep his promise to return us to the 1950s and we shouldn’t try,” Buttigieg said. “There is only the future and we can make the future better than the past.”

He received the only standing ovation as he closed his remarks by arguing Democrats should reclaim American values like freedom, patriotism and faith, and to not shy away from their policies out of fear of retaliation from Trump.

“I’m here with a warning: which is that I can also see how he wins again. And it’s not about how left or how right we go, ok? If we embrace a left-wing agenda, the president is going to say we’re socialists and we’re for open borders. If we adopt a conservative agenda, the president is going to say we’re socialists and we’re for open borders,” Buttigieg said. “So we might as well just stand up for what we believe in and take it from there!”

The second-to-last candidate to speak, many in the crowd simply packed up and filed out after Buttigieg finished his remarks; they had seen what they needed to see.

He [Buttigieg] speaks about seven languages. He's just...he reminds me of Bobby Kennedy in his youth and I think he would make a great president, but I just have a feeling that he's not electable at this time. But I hope I'm wrong! - Sherrill Ellmers, Cedar Rapids resident

Attendees also seemed to warm to Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who served for two and half years in the Obama administration.

Among other issues, Castro highlighted his stances on cultural inclusion and immigration, a message which won him accolades from campaign watchers after his appearance in the first round of televised Democratic debates as well.

“Go back to Mexico they said. Go back to Africa they said. No Irish need apply, they said. The Chinese are excluded, they said. Throughout the generations there have been people who build their political careers on hate and division and fear and paranoia making people the other. We are not going to do that,” Castro said to cheers. “We need to reform our immigration system to one that maintains border security but that uses compassion and common sense instead of cruelty.”

Wrapping up his remarks Sunday, Castro, whose family came to the U.S. from Mexico, told the crowd he’d take particular pleasure in ushering out a president who has made a crackdown on immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, a key issue in his candidacy.

“Right before he leaves, right before he walks away, I’m going to tell him, ‘Adios!’” Castro said to a cheering crowd. “Thank you so much! Thank you Cedar Rapids!”

Roughly half of the presidential field was absent from the event. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio jettisoned his plans to attend the Corn Feed and returned home when an electrical blackout struck the city. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee missed the event due to a delayed flight.

For other lesser known candidates, the day was an opportunity to communicate the basics of their biographies and urge likely caucus-goers to give them some consideration, including Ohio U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.

“I just want all of you to go to Tim Ryan for America dot com. Our plans are starting to get laid out. And I want you to give me a chance in this election!” Ryan told the crowd.

The event comes at a time when more progressive policies on healthcare and the economy are no longer considered fringe in the Democratic Party. Still, leading progressives in the race including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren were not present.

Other top-polling candidates were notably absent as well, including Former Vice President Joe Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Cedar Rapids resident Deb Manders and her husband Bob said they would’ve liked to have seen Warren and Harris at the event.

"I can understand why maybe Bernie Sanders and Biden were not here because they don't really need the name recognition...but I think Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, they could've been here." - Deb Manders, Cedar Rapids resident

“I can understand why maybe Bernie Sanders and Biden were not here because they don’t really need the name recognition,” Deb said. “But I think Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, they could’ve been here.”

Meanwhile, Sherrill Ellmers of Cedar Rapids said she was very impressed with Buttigieg and says she loves the idea of a multilingual millennial leader with an eye to the nation’s future. But she says she’s concerned Buttigieg may not be “electable” for a broader swath of the public, including Republican voters.

“He speaks about seven languages. He’s just…he reminds me of Bobby Kennedy in his youth and I think he would make a great president, but I just have a feeling that he’s not electable at this time,” Ellmers said. “But I hope I’m wrong!”

When pressed by her daughter Beth Oja, Ellmers explained she’s concerned about Buttigieg’s youth and that he’s openly gay. But Oja pushed back against her mother, saying Democrats should take that step.

“If we never put anybody forward like that, then it’s never gonna happen. It’s like we don’t put a woman forward because we’ve never had a woman president,” Oja said. “I don’t think that’s a valid argument.”