Government

Breaking the barrier of top-tier Democrats skirting Iowa

Cory Booker's visit means 2020 caucuses are closer than we think

Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, seen here on Sept. 5, are both considered to be prospective presidential candidates. (Matt McClain/Washington Post)
Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, seen here on Sept. 5, are both considered to be prospective presidential candidates. (Matt McClain/Washington Post)

If they didn’t already, the 2020 Iowa caucuses are starting to feel a bit more real, not like some faraway event looming in the distance.

Official and potential presidential candidates have been traipsing around Iowa for the better part of two years. And yet the 2020 caucuses in some way feel more like a how a recent college graduate would feel about retirement. There’s a lot of other stuff that’s going to happen first.

But with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s pledge to visit Iowa this weekend to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall fundraiser, the 2020 caucuses are starting to feel more like that wedding that seems a long way off but in truth will be here before you know it.

Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, is the first top-tier as-yet undeclared presidential candidate — in terms of prominence — to announce a visit to the first-in-the-nation caucus state this cycle since the June primaries.

Booker has not made any official statement about 2020 and says he wants to come to Iowa to help Democrats win in this fall’s midterm elections. But, as we know, no politician comes to Iowa by accident.

A possible weekend vote on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh could thwart Booker’s travel plans, but his plan to visit Iowa is enough to put the caucuses on Democrats’ minds.

Other declared and potential 2020 candidates have been coming around, too. Rep. John Delaney, D-Maryland, has already visited all 99 counties. He’s also put up TV ads. U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell, of California, and Tim Ryan, of Ohio, have also gotten to know Iowa well.

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We even had a visit from the Californian, Michael Avenatti.

But Booker’s scheduled appearance would be the first post-primary stop by a candidate who needs no introduction here.

Obviously, he won’t be the last. It’s only a matter of time before people like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren (who are so familiar we don’t need to remind folks they’re senators) start making their way to Iowa.

Or, if they decide they’re interested, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

The big names opted to steer clear of Iowa for much of this midterm campaign — Election Day is just one month from Tuesday. Booker is prying the lid off.

But it’s not his first dalliance with Iowa Democrats. Booker started planting the seeds for this moment when he visited the Iowa Democratic delegates at the party’s national convention in Philadelphia in 2016. His remarks, both to the convention and later to just the Iowa delegates, were well-received.

While Booker is the first big name to step foot in Iowa this cycle, the state is not being completely ignored by others. Harris has endorsed and hosted a fundraiser for Iowa Secretary of State candidate Deidre DeJear, and CBS News reported that Warren has been in touch with former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Biden also has stayed in touch with Democratic friends in Dubuque.

And Sanders was here earlier this year. In February, he returned to the state he barely lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 caucuses, helping out Pete D’Alessandro, who was his a top campaign aide who ran in the Democratic primary for Congress this year.

But Booker has chosen to wade first into Iowa’s first-in-the-nation waters. If he makes it to the state party’s fall fundraiser, he gets the first big bullhorn. It will be interesting to hear his message and see how Iowa Democrats respond, whether he makes the most of this opportunity.

Either way, a lot will happen between this weekend and early February 2020.

But that doesn’t feel so far away anymore.

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l Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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