Iowa, Iowa, Iowa: This Week in the 2020 Race

DES MOINES — Two days to go, people! Two days until the day we’ve been anticipating for more than a year. We’re in the homestretch. It’s almost ov —

Wait, what? There are still five months of primaries to go?

Let’s not think about that. Just think about Iowa. One of us has been embedded here for 11 days straight, so forgive us if we’re a little punchy. Here’s a look at what’s been happening.

Last weekend brought a whirlwind of campaign events from Dubuque to Sioux City as Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tried to cram a week’s worth of campaigning into two days before all of them — to paraphrase Ms. Klobuchar — turned into impeachment pumpkins. (The fourth senator in the race, Michael Bennet of Colorado, is focusing on New Hampshire.)

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., moved from oblique to direct attacks, criticizing Mr. Sanders and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. by name and saying the two front-runners’ recent arguments — over Social Security, for instance — reflected an unwise focus on the past.

Mr. Biden, on the other hand, campaigned as if he were already the nominee, focusing squarely on President Trump. On Tuesday, he seized on comments by Senator Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican facing a tough election of her own, to argue that he is the Democrat the president fears most.

The Closing Arguments of the 2020 Democrats in Iowa

We analyzed the stump speeches that six Democratic presidential candidates gave in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Here’s a breakdown.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press published an investigation into a murder conviction Ms. Klobuchar won as Hennepin County attorney in 2003. The report raised questions about whether a black teenager accused of firing shots that killed an 11-year-old girl had been wrongly convicted, and cited several flaws in the investigation.

The revelations prompted civil rights activists and black community leaders in Minneapolis to call on Ms. Klobuchar to suspend her presidential campaign. A spokeswoman for the campaign said Ms. Klobuchar “has always believed in pursuing justice without fear or favor” and that she supports the review of any new evidence in this case.

John Delaney, a former representative from Maryland who announced his candidacy for president in July 2017, said Friday that he would end his campaign. He ran as a moderate, especially against “Medicare for all.”

Mr. Delaney said he had concluded that he would do just well enough in some places to keep other moderates below the 15 percent viability threshold. “When I knew that I didn’t have enough support to reach viability in a meaningful way, but I had enough support to pull off from other candidates,” he told us, “I said, well, that’s not very productive.”

His departure leaves 11 candidates in the Democratic race.

The Democratic National Committee announced the thresholds to make the second of three debates in February, scheduled for Feb. 19 in Nevada — and the standards are pretty high.

In order to get invited, candidates will have to either win at least one delegate in the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, or meet stricter polling requirements.

As of now, only Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren have qualified. But because party officials will no longer require candidates to show grass-roots strength by demonstrating that they have hundreds of thousands of donors, Mr. Bloomberg — who is rising in the polls and is not accepting donations, since he is self-funding his campaign — may soon join them.

  • Read more about the changes here.

For months, candidates have been trying to outdo one another on everything from taxes to gun policy, jostling to produce the boldest proposals. That dynamic has been especially visible in disability policy. And on Friday, Mr. Sanders released a sweeping plan that advocates said rivaled the one they had recently praised from Ms. Warren.

Mr. Sanders is proposing several of the same things, including ending sub-minimum wages for workers with disabilities, fully funding the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, eliminating Social Security rules that can prevent people from marrying, and protecting home- and community-based services.

His plan also calls for a federal Office of Climate Resiliency for People With Disabilities “to ensure that nationwide, the needs of people with disabilities are consistently addressed during adaptation planning and that those efforts are coordinated throughout the federal government.”

If you’re looking for something fun and caucus-related, we suggest this story on the dogs of the 2020 campaign.

Still deciding which candidate to support? Take our quick quiz to see how you match up with the Democratic hopefuls.

Want more? Here’s something to watch that will get you ready (and perhaps excited!) for Monday:



Why the Iowa Caucuses Are So Important

Protests in the 1960s, a mimeograph machine and a long-shot candidate all contributed to Iowa’s unlikely role in the presidential election process.

This was Iowa caucus night back in the mid-1970s. And these are members of the national media covering the voting. It was so unusual to see national media in Iowa back then that people actually paid to watch them. “The Democratic Party charged $15 a head for people to watch the media watch the people.” See, in previous years, Iowa’s caucuses just hadn’t attracted national attention. “There are 3,000 frozen media members in downtown Des Moines …” Just over a decade later, Iowa is the place to be. “… It’s Iowa caucus night. Let’s party.” [shouting] The caucuses are now a key part of the presidential election cycle. “Bush, 57.” They’re the first chance to see what kind of support candidates have among voters. So how did we get here, from caucuses that only Iowans seem to care about to the national spectacle we see today? Turns out, a lot of it was accidental. For most of Iowa’s history, its caucuses were dominated by political insiders. There was little room for input from rank-and-file members. An historian writing in the 1940s put it like this: “The larger number of party voters were deprived of a voice.” But the old ways start coming to an end in 1968. The country’s in turmoil, and so is the Democratic Party, mostly over the Vietnam War and civil rights. Basically, the party establishment wants to handle things one way, and many rank-and-file members have other ideas. All this comes to a head as the Democrats hold their national convention. Protesters gather outside. So do police. Inside, the mood is also tense. All this division leads the Democratic Party to rethink the nomination rules to include the voices of all party members in the process. This is how we come to the moment when Iowa becomes key to electing a president, basically by accident. First up, how Iowa became first to hold a presidential contest. It starts with new rules to give everyday members more of a say. So by 1972, winning Iowa now involves four stages. Iowans choose their top candidates, first at the precinct level. These are the caucuses at the heart of this story. But technically, there’s further voting at the county, congressional district and state levels. The new rules make things a lot more inclusive, but this creates new delays. Committees need to be formed, and everyone needs to have up-to-date party materials. The problem is, the state party only has an old mimeograph machine to make copies of all this. It’s really slow. So because of an old machine and a bunch of new logistics, the party decides it needs at least a month between each step to do it all. The national convention is set for early July, so you’d think that the state-level convention would happen about a month before, in June. Except, the party can’t find a venue that’s available to hold everyone. That little detail helps push everything earlier in a chain reaction. See what’s going on here? The precinct caucuses now have to happen early in the year. The party chooses a date that makes Iowa’s the first presidential contest. The New Hampshire primary has been the first kickoff contest since the 1950s, but Iowa Democrats aren’t necessarily looking for national attention. They just think it’ll be fun to be first. Still, attention is what they get. The story begins with George McGovern. “People didn’t know much about the Iowa caucuses. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t a great deal of interest in them.” He’s the long-shot candidate. He’s been at the bottom of national polls. “He often walked the campaign trail alone, little known by the voters.” Most people think this guy, Edmund Muskie, is going to be the big winner in Iowa. “That challenge is great, but we can meet it.” Then comes caucus night. As the people vote, state party officials gather at their headquarters. Richard Bender is one of them. “And we had about 10 or 12 press people show up. These press people included one guy, Johnny Apple.” Johnny Apple, a 37-year-old political correspondent for The New York Times. Iowa’s Democrats aren’t ready to publicize the results right away. They hadn’t expected much demand. According to Bender, only Johnny Apple asked for them that night. “I happen to be fascinated with such things, so I made it my business, beforehand, to understand it.” Bender sets up a phone tree to gather results from across the state. He adds them up himself with a calculator. And the next day, Apple’s article helps swing the national spotlight onto the caucuses. He’s got quite the story to tell. Muskie’s won, but just barely. Not the runaway win people were expecting. And McGovern comes in a strong second. No one expected that, either. The reformed caucus rules helped a long-shot candidate rise to the top. And because this is happening so early in the election now, and because Apple’s article gives the results national coverage, something else happens. “That got picked up by some of the national news shows.” “The Democratic front-runner has been damaged in Iowa.” “And wow, all of a sudden, we were being paid attention to.” McGovern eventually wins the Democratic nomination. “I accept your nomination with a full and grateful heart.” He loses the presidential election, but some haven’t forgotten what those early caucuses did for McGovern, including Georgia’s former governor, Jimmy Carter. Three years later … “There was a major headline on the editorial page of the Atlanta Constitution that said, ‘Jimmy Carter’s running for what?’ [laughter] And the ‘What’ was about this big. [applause] I’m running for president.” … Carter heads to Iowa before any other Democratic candidate. He’s got no national profile. “He didn’t have hordes of press following him around. It was a very lonely campaign.” Washington pundits call his candidacy laughable. “I remember when we couldn’t find a microphone.” “Jimmy Who?” becomes a catchphrase. Carter’s own campaign film plays it up. “Jimmy who?” “I don’t know who he is.” But as long as Iowans come to know him and like him, Carter bets that the media will start paying attention, just like with McGovern four years earlier. Carter campaigns as locally as possible. One day, he learns that he’s been invited on a local TV show. “And I said, that is great. I can’t believe it. I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ He said, ‘Do you have any favorite recipes?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, recipes?’ He said, ‘Well, this is a cooking show.’ Well, they put a white apron on me and a chef’s hat. That was my only access to TV when I first began to campaign in Iowa.” His opponents are in Iowa, too, but they spend far less time there. Carter wins. “Surprisingly top of the class after his win in a somewhat obscure race in Iowa against the others.” “You can’t tell until we go to the other 49 states, but it’s encouraging for us.” A year later … “I, Jimmy Carter, do solemnly swear —” … he becomes the 39th president. Now we need to head to 1980 because we haven’t talked about the Republicans yet. Here’s the state’s Republican chairman that year. He’s asked why Iowa’s caucuses have become so important. “I think because Jimmy Carter got his start in Iowa in 1976.” The Republicans in Iowa are keen to copy the Democrat’s success, and one candidate in particular gets inspired by Carter’s underdog win: George H.W. Bush. He’s running against Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and others, and he’s near the bottom of the pack. “Your name isn’t really a household word, but Ronald Reagan can —” But Bush goes big in Iowa. He gets a surprise win. It’s a far cry from just months before. “I was an asterisk in those days. And my feelings got hurt. And now, I’m no longer an asterisk.” Bush is now the third underdog to get a boost from the caucuses. The next morning on CBS, he distills the essence of this new Iowa effect. “We will have forward, ‘Big Mo’ on our side, as they say in athletics.” “ ‘Big Mo?’ ” “Yeah. Mo — momentum.” Bush loses to Reagan, but becomes vice president. And the desire to capture the “Big Mo” from Iowa has only grown, thanks in large part to Iowa’s embrace of being first, and the media storm that descends every four years. That’s despite the fact that most candidates who win … “This is a job interview.” … don’t become president. Plus, many point out that the state’s overwhelmingly white population doesn’t reflect the country’s diversity. “I actually think that we can find places that represent that balance of urban and rural better.” But the race to get the “Big Mo” out of Iowa persists because it’s the first chance to upend expectations, and put political fates in the voters’ hands.

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Protests in the 1960s, a mimeograph machine and a long-shot candidate all contributed to Iowa’s unlikely role in the presidential election process.CreditCredit…Associated Press

Take a deep breath Tuesday morning. We’ll see you in New Hampshire.

Maggie Astor reported from Des Moines, and Matt Stevens from New York.

Continue reading at New York Times