CEDAR RAPIDS — Not even rain can dampen the spirits of Iowa Democrats.
Many of the 1,000-plus enthusiasts stood in the showers Tuesday evening to get inside Veterans Memorial Coliseum and join former Vice President Joe Biden in a rally for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred Hubbell and 1st District U.S. House candidate Abby Finkenauer.
The turnout a week before Election Day showed that voters recognize “we are in a battle for the soul of America,” Biden said in a half-hour speech that ranged from highlights of his eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president to an optimistic vision of an America “positioned to own the 21st century.”
Referring to recent violence aimed at critics of President Donald Trump, a Jewish congregation in Pittsburgh and two African Americans in Kentucky, Biden called on leaders and all Americans to change the tone of politics.
“Folks, we need to recognize that words matter,” he said. “Our political opponents are not our enemies. They are our opponents. We are Americans.”
And at this moment, Biden said, voters are looking for “people with character … with authenticity … people who treat everyone, like my dad did, with dignity and respect … and tell the truth.”
“And we have three of them here,” Biden said about Hubbell, his running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart, and Finkenauer, who he described as “smart as hell.”
Like Biden, Finkenauer and Hubbell cast this Tuesday’s election in terms of values.
Iowans have “one week to prove that we are an Iowa that steps up for our neighbors with pre-existing conditions. One week to prove that we are an Iowa that fights for working families. And one week to make sure that Washington hears from all the Iowans they have forgotten,” Finkenauer said.
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Hubbell, who thanked Biden for a “lifetime of service … fighting for the value we share,” said he’s running for governor “because I can’t stand by and watch our state run into the ground.”
Biden’s appearance was billed as an early voting rally to build on Democrats’ energy and enthusiasm as they try to turn the party around from crushing defeats in 2016 when Trump carried the state and the GOP took control of the Iowa Senate, giving Republicans control over the lawmaking agenda.
However, Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Biden’s visit in the final week of the campaign tells him that Finkenauer’s opponent — U.S. Rep. Rod Blum — and Hubbell’s — Gov. Kim Reynolds — are going to be re-elected.
“I like Joe Biden, but I think he’s operating a rescue mission that isn’t going to work,” Grassley said in an interview earlier in the day. “You don’t hear Democrats talking about the blue wave as much. The chances of (Rep. Nancy) Pelosi being speaker are a lot less than they were a couple of months ago.”
Retired teacher Patty Kucera of Cedar Rapids dismissed that as “scare tactics to make us think we don’t have a chance.”
She said the rally turnout showed there is no lack of Democratic enthusiasm and “people are ready for change.”
Hubbell seized on that, saying Iowa is at a tipping point because of Reynolds’ supporting a privatized Medicaid “disaster,” underfunding education and the GOP Legislature stripping public employees’ collective bargaining rights.
“Iowans deserve better,” he said.
There were some who shared concerns that Democrats may have lost some of their early momentum. Cindi Knox of Waterloo was concerned by “polls that showed Abby ahead, but now it’s closer.” Chris Piplani of Cedar Rapids agreed that “the energy is definitely there, but it’s a tossup in a lot of places.”
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Cheryl Miller spends her weekends knocking on doors in an Iowa House 95 legislative district that wraps around the north and east sides of Cedar Rapids, and she feels good about Democrats’ chances.
“People are upbeat and they’re tired of the Trump shenanigans,” Miller said. She described herself as a former independent who became a “full-fledged Democrat” after Trump’s election.
Some people came for the headliner — Biden. Although he hasn’t said whether he will seek the presidency in 2020 for a third time, polls have shown that Biden, 75, is one of Democrats’ most popular choices for a presidential nominee.
Knox joked that Biden “is my boyfriend.” A brain cancer survivor, Knox wore a T-shirt with the message “Promise me, Joe.” That’s a reference to Biden’s book, “Promise Me, Dad,” about his son’s battle with brain cancer.
Biden made sure the crowd left fired up with a full-throated affirmation of America’s future.
“We are positioned to own the 21st century,” he said as he wound up his remarks. The United States is the world’s largest economy, with the strongest military, energy independence and more research universities than the rest of the world.
“Folks, remember who we are,” he said. “This is America. Nothing is beyond our capacity. We can do anything.”
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