An Outside Look Inside Iowa Politics: Part One

Nov 06

Written by Courtney Ryan

When it comes to politics, Des Moines is an epicenter. It’s the city that makes or breaks presidential hopefuls looking to snag their party’s nomination. This past Friday, more than 13,000 people from all over the country descended on the city for the Democrats’ annual Liberty and Justice Celebration, and it was mayhem. This celebration is perhaps the biggest event for Democratic presidential candidates. It was at this event in 2007 where President Barack Obama turned his entire campaign around with one speech and ended up winning his party’s nomination, and then the presidency.

When I moved to Des Moines in October, I knew of the political landscape and had heard how the city is always bustling with presidential candidates during election years. However, I underestimated the Democrats’ annual celebration.

To start, the streets surrounding Wells Fargo Arena were lined with supporters at 5 a.m. Friday. Those supporters hung up banners on city overpasses and stuck thousands of yard signs around the arena. Also, about two hours before the dinner and political speeches, each candidate held individual rallies. Due to time constraints, I was only able to attend two.

Inside the venue, I wasn’t sure if I was at a political event or a sport’s pep-rally. The atmosphere was electric, candidate posters covered the walls, and the sound of drumlines filled the halls. All the supporters were wearing matching T-shirts and carrying signs while campaign staffers hustled to hand out pamphlets to anyone walking by.

The first rally I stopped to watch was for former Vice President Joe Biden. His rally was packed with the members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Union. Biden’s wife, Jill, introduced him after giving a quick speech in which she focused on President Trump and why she believes he is wrong for America. Once Biden took the stage, he started his speech by talking about President Trump before switching gears to talk about his accomplishments. If you’ve heard any of Biden’s speeches in the past, he didn’t stray from his usual talking points.

I then stumbled into Senator Cory Booker’s rally. Booker’s rally was energetic and lively. When he came on stage, Booker’s speech focused on the economy and his plans. After his speech, Booker carried his campaign flag and led his crowd into the arena for the main event.

Inside Wells Fargo Arena was like something I had never seen before for a political event. All of the concession stands were open and beer vendors had long lines. I felt like I was walking into a Luke Bryan concert. When I made my way to the ground floor for dinner and stump speeches, I looked into the stands and all I could see were the thousands of supporters shouting different chants.  

The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party kicked off the main event with an upbeat speech about taking back the state in 2020. The program was then broken up as follows: the top seven presidential candidates spoke first, followed by the state’s three Congressional Democratic leaders, and ended with the remaining six presidential candidates. It was a long night of speeches.

During the speeches, a number of the presidential candidates, like Biden, Buttigieg, and Sanders focused their attention on Trump, while the other candidates, like Warren and Harris, made mention of how they could beat their opponents. The one candidate I was impressed with was Andrew Yang. I had never heard Yang speak before, and I liked what he had to say. Yang didn’t focus his time on Trump, but rather on his plan to fix the economy. Yang talked about reigning in the big technology companies and how a number of retail stores and malls have closed due to online shopping and automation. He also talked about giving every American a universal basic income of $1,000 a month. I found Yang’s speech to be a breath of fresh air and full of ideas that none of the other candidates are talking about.

Overall, while the event was overwhelming, it was well worth the experience. The crowd, the atmosphere, all the candidates in one arena; I don’t think you’d find an event like this anywhere other than Iowa.