Iowans will caucus Monday, and there will finally be results to how all that campaigning and organizing has paid off for the Democratic candidates.
In early 2019 the field was enormous with twenty-some candidates regularly coming to Iowa to campaign. It was still big in September when people thinking about caucusing were starting to pay more attention to the race when 17 of the Democrats spoke at the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry.
The candidates took turns flipping steaks and then speaking to a crowd of 12,000 people at Water Works Park in Des Moines.
This was a moment when former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg was really turning some heads. It was also a big weekend for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was still riding a wave of energy after the Iowa State Fair.
“And there’s another way we can restructure this economy. It’s time for a wealth tax in this country,” she said as the crowd chanted “two cents, two cents, two cents.”
Her call for a two cent wealth tax had become a rallying cry.
“So here’s how it works. Your first 50 million are free and clear. Feeling relaxed about that? Good. But your 50 million and first dollar, you gotta pitch in two cents,” she explained.
But the news dominating headlines that weekend? There were reports that President Trump had asked the leader of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter. This of course has become the heart of the impeachment trial.
When former Vice President Biden showed up to the steak fry, a throng of reporters surrounded him.
“Depending on what the House finds he could be impeached. I’m not making this judgement now. The House should investigate. The house should investigate. This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power,” he said.
The impeachment of President Trump has gone on to dominate the headlines while candidates continued to campaign in Iowa. And the trial has forced the four candidates who are senators to stay in Washington D.C., pulling them off the trail in the last couple weeks before the caucuses.
One of those senators is Bernie Sanders from Vermont.
“I’ve been criticized for being old. I plead guilty. I am old!” the Vermont senator said at a town hall in Marshalltown in October after suffering a heart attack that took him off the campaign trail for a little while.
He talks about how his so-called political revolution started here in Iowa, which he barely lost to Hillary Clinton four years ago. Sanders has really set the tone for a lot of the 2020 race.
“They didn’t come to me because I had a pollster saying ‘hey, this is polling pretty well Bernie. You might want to take that one up.’ These are ideas that I have fought for my entire life!”
In November, the 13 remaining candidates spoke at the Liberty and Justice Celebration in Des Monies. They all wanted to have a similar breakout moment like Barack Obama did in 2007, which gave him momentum that helped deliver him a caucus night win in 2008.
Pete Buttigieg, who likes to bring up Barack Obama’s surprise victory here, was working to re-create that magic when he talked about bringing the country together.
“We will fight when we must fight, but I will never allow us to get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point. The point is what lies on the other side of the fight,” he said.
But none of them recaptured that moment.
And as they head into Monday polls have consistently showed a top tier: Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have been fighting their way towards that top tier. And Tuesday morning they’ll all be trying to see if they can spin their Iowa caucus night’s results as a reason to continue to the other early states.
This past year Iowa Public Radio’s podcast Caucus Land has been following the ins and outs of all the campaigning. A final episode before the actual event takes place is in your podcast feed now.