Iowa Democrats rally their election forces

Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, addresses the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2016 Gala fundraising dinner in Des Moines on Friday night. Photo by Rod Boshart
Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, addresses the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2016 Gala fundraising dinner in Des Moines on Friday night. Photo by Rod Boshart

DES MOINES — Iowa Democrats dispelled talk of an enthusiasm gap Friday, cheering on their 2016 candidates and pledging to press full speed to the Nov. 8 finish line in hopes of winning the state for Hillary Clinton and scoring gains up and down the general-election ballot.

“It’s the countdown to the election of our lifetime,” Iowa Democratic Party chairwoman Andy McGuire told about 560 Democrats who gathered for the party’s fall fundraising gala, which featured pep-rally style speeches from party rising star Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro, former Gov. Tom Vilsack and Democratic candidates seeking offices at the federal, state and local levels.

“We’re going to work every day as if we’re behind because that’s how we do things. We will not take anything for granted,” McGuire said. “It’s going to be close in Iowa. It always is.”

Castro, a Texas representative who could eye a U.S. Senate bid in 2018, said he’s hoping Democrats will make gains in the House and Senate from majority Republicans who are in disarray over the divisions created by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and his headline-grabbing campaign against Clinton.

“Republicans are in open warfare right now,” said Castro, who will attend Latino early-vote events in Marshalltown and Des Moines on behalf of Clinton on Saturday. “They have no message at this point, certainly no unified message to the American people.”

“The American people don’t want a party who has nominated somebody who’s really been a destructive force in American society since he launched his campaign about a year-and-a-half ago,” he told reporters.

Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for the past seven years, recounted to the crowd how Hillary Clinton helped him raise money and muster support while he was a struggling gubernatorial candidate in 1998.

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Now is the time, he said, to return the favor this election, bringing Democrats to their feet by declaring, “We have got to deliver for Hillary Clinton.”

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann painted a different picture Friday, saying his party is “closing the gap” on Iowa Democrats’ dominance in absentee balloting with 25 days until Election Day and raising his confidence Republicans will have the votes needed to turn Iowa red in November.

Kaufmann thanked former President Bill Clinton, who spent two days campaigning in Iowa, for aiding a spike in Republican-requested absentee ballots this past week. “You have to give it to the guy, he sure knows how to inspire Republicans to vote,” Kaufmann said in a statement.

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