There was a cloudless blue sky and the temperature soared into the mid-80s for the Big Tent on the Prairie hosted by the Story County Democrats. County Chair Maddie Anderson said “at least” 400 people attended the event, at which three Democratic presidential candidates spoke and many other campaigns had a presence.
Anderson said the organization invited all presidential candidates who have not previously spoken at one of its fundraisers to speak at the Big Tent on the Prairie event. Those who responded to their invitation and agreed to speak at this event were Mayor Bill de Blasio, D-New York, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y..
Whitney Hulse, a foreign language teacher at Ballard middle school in Huxley, said she has four candidates who she is considering right now.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., because of his progressive ideas, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., because she is also progressive and is a “strong politician,” former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julían Castro because of his stance on education and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., because of his stance on gun control.
Many candidates who were not speaking at the fundraiser still had a visible campaign presence.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former representative John Delaney, D-Md., Sanders, former representative Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, Warren, Swalwell, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-South Bend, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., all had staff at the event to try to gather information on potential supporters and caucus-goers.
Cody Woodruff, a senior in political science at Iowa State, was volunteering at the event for the Buttigieg campaign.
Woodruff said he admired “Mayor Pete” since before his 2017 run for Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman. Woodruff said he first found out about Buttigieg through a 2016 New York Times opinion piece on the South Bend mayor.
De Blasio was the first of the candidates to arrive and was the tallest person at Alluvial Brewing, where the event was held.
De Blasio, 6’5”, would be the tallest president in American history if elected, edging out Abraham Lincoln by one inch.
Wendie Schneider, communications committee chair for the Story County Democrats, said they had to move the lectern the candidates were to speak at so de Blasio would have enough headroom.
De Blasio arrived and spoke briefly with Iowa Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames. Wessel-Kroeschell said she endorsed Hillary Clinton prior to the Iowa caucuses in both 2008 and 2016 but is not making an endorsement for the 2020 caucuses yet, amidst the historically large field of candidates.
The New York mayor made his way to the lectern and addressed the crowd.
“Do you feel like you’re working more? Do you feel like you’re working longer hours?” de Blasio asked the audience. “Now, let me ask you something else; have you had any time in the last 10 or 20 years where you or your loved ones had trouble making ends meet?”
De Blasio said he believes something is wrong and America is not working for working people.
“It’s not that folks aren’t giving it their all, [it's that] they’re not getting their fair share," de Blasio said. "American working people are doing everything they know how to do, but they’re not getting the fruits of their labor."
The mayor said he blames the economic struggles working-class Americans face on an agenda dating back to President Ronald Reagan and said it continues today with President Donald Trump’s tax cuts.
“What we have seen time and time again is our government is the reason the rich get richer,” de Blasio said.
In a press gaggle after his speech, de Blasio was asked what he would do as president to alleviate student loan debt.
The New York mayor said he is only three weeks into the race, and he would put out more policy papers soon.
“Look, if the federal government can bail out banks — they can bail out students and folks who have student debt,” de Blasio said.
When asked whether he would consider writing off student loan debt if elected president, de Blasio said he believes a certain amount of the debt would have to be written off by the federal government.
De Blasio said he believes the country will have to move to having as much free public two and four-year colleges as it "possibly can.”
When asked how he would address the issues facing rural Iowans, de Blasio said one of the most important things Democrats can do is speak to rural Americans.
“I think folks in rural areas and folks in urban areas are dealing with the same economic struggles,” de Blasio said. “I think there’s a profound sense of unfairness that rural Iowans and rural Americans are feeling that their workers are harmed and not getting ahead.”
De Blasio said he would aim to recreate a “rural-urban coalition” in the Democratic party to help defeat Trump.
As the Mayor of New York was leaving the venue, Booker arrived and pressed through the crowd to the lectern.
During his speech, Booker reaffirmed his support for woman to have access to contraception and healthcare.
“If you want to empower families and our future — you empower women,” Booker said.
Unlike the other two presidential candidates who spoke at the event, Booker did not hold a press gaggle, but the New Jersey senator answered questions from the audience.
An attendee asked Booker about collective bargaining rights.
“When we have unions we have strength, and this state’s attack on worker’s rights to organize is outrageous,” Booker said. “We’ve seen unions decline and median incomes have declined in this country.”
Another audience member asked Booker about the environment.
“We are in a crisis in our planet,” Booker said. “The next president can’t make climate change an issue, they have to make it the center of all policy — everything we do: Department of Transportation, have got to be about the environment, or ag-laws and the ag-bill have to incentivize farmers to cover costs, our foreign policy — rejoining the Paris climate accord.”
Booker ended his speech and mingled in the crowd to talk with attendees and to take selfies. As Booker spoke with the crowd, Gillibrand arrived.
The two presidential candidates came together and embraced.
Gillibrand had spent the morning and early afternoon at Capital City Pride events in Des Moines and sported a henna tattoo of a flower in pride colors, which her campaign said had been drawn at a Pride event.
“Shout out to my best friend in the Senate, Cory Booker,” Gillibrand said to open her speech.
Gillibrand said she was raised in a family that believed everyone matters, no matter who they love.
“Because [my mother] was one of only a few women [lawyers] in the entire community, a lot of the gay community came to her,” Gillibrand said. “So when women wanted to buy a house together, she would make sure that they had the legal documents and write the contract.”
Gillibrand defeated a four-term Republican incumbent when she was first elected to Congress in 2006. The senator said the only person who believed she would win the race when she started her campaign was her mother.
Gillibrand said she has received the highest vote total of any candidate who has run for governor or senator in the history of New York, receiving 72.2% of the vote in 2012 — or 4.8 million votes.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., received 5.2 million votes in his 2016 re-election, though this amounted to 1.6% less of the popular vote than Gillibrand received in 2012.
“In my last election, I won back 18 counties that went to Trump,” Gillibrand said. “So I know I can win red places, I know I can win purple places, I know I can win blue places — because I’ve done it my whole career.”
As in her Fox News-hosted Iowa town hall on Sunday, Gillibrand addressed the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“If you want to end gun violence in this country — and today is a day we are in mourning for all those who were lost, you’ve got to be willing to take on the NRA, and the NRA is entirely motivated by the greed and corruption of the gun manufacturers,” Gillibrand said.
Similar to de Blasio, Gillibrand had a brief press gaggle after her speech.
The senator was asked how she plans to pay all of the policies she proposes.
“First, that tax cut that Trump put in place — $1.5 trillion — I would only keep about 0.5 of it, and that’s the middle class tax cuts," Gillibrand said. "I would roll back the rest, because they went to the wealthiest Americans and the most successful companies, so I would use that money to invest in the middle class.”
Gillibrand said she would also implement a transaction tax, which she said would generate $770 billion for the treasury over 10 years and said she would fix the tax code to ensure generational wealth is taxed appropriately, among other tax reforms.
When asked what she would do to alleviate the economic struggle farmers are facing in the wake of tariffs and flooding, Gillibrand said floods that are supposed to be hundred-year floods are every-year floods now.
“First, we need to address global climate change directly and aggressively — I would pass the Green New Deal and I would put a price on carbon,” Gillibrand said. “Second, I would have an agricultural policy that would look at ways to invest in our farmers long-term. I would look at issues and ideas like supply management, I would look at ways that you can make sure that the price for the things they are producing don’t get pushed down so low that they can’t make money or so high that they can’t sell it.”
The junior senator from New York said the trade war with China is “crushing” Iowa’s farmers.
“[Iowa farmers] biggest exports of ethanol, corn, soybean and pork — during a trade war — China can’t buy them because they’re too expensive and they’re their number one purchaser, so they’re struggling right now under President Trump’s trade wars,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand was asked if she is not the nominee what message she would want the eventual nominee to move forward with.
“My message, because I think mine is the boldest and strongest, and I would help whoever our nominee is win,” Gillibrand said.
Anderson said she believes the fundraiser was a success and more than 280 people had signed up for their mailing list for future events.
All three candidates who spoke at the event appear to meet at least one of the criteria to qualify for the debate stage later this month.
To qualify, a candidate must have received at least 1% in three DNC approved polls or have received 65,000 unique donations and at least 200 unique donors from at least 20 different states.
Gillibrand tweeted on Thursday she had less than 5,000 more donations remaining to meet that criteria, in addition to the polling criteria which she already appears to have reached.
Rachel Irwin, the Iowa Communications Director for the Gillibrand campaign, said they are very close and on track to hit 65,000 unique donations by the deadline.
In a Selzer poll for the Des Moines Register released the same day of the event, de Blasio and Gillibrand have the support of 0% likely Iowa caucus-goers, while Booker has the support of 1%.