Government

Presidential candidates pitch pragmatism and unity to state lawmakers

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks during a meet and greet at The Chrome Horse Saloon and Slop House in Cedar Rapids on Monday, February 18, 2019. (Cliff Jette /The Gazette)
Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks during a meet and greet at The Chrome Horse Saloon and Slop House in Cedar Rapids on Monday, February 18, 2019. (Cliff Jette /The Gazette)
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John Delaney pitched pragmatism and Kirsten Gillibrand described herself as a unifier when the presidential candidates met with Iowa Democratic state legislators this week at the Iowa Capitol.

Delaney and Gillibrand spoke to statehouse Democrats on Tuesday morning during legislators’ closed-door caucus meetings.

Delaney is a former congressman and businessman from Maryland. Gillibrand represents New York in the U.S. Senate. They are among the dozen Democratic presidential candidates.

The candidates said they also discussed some of Democrats’ favorite topics: health care, the environment, education, etc.

But when making their pitch to those Democratic legislators — surely in the hopes of scoring a few endorsements at some point — Delaney and Gillibrand also chose to talk about the ways they could solve problems and unite all Americans.

There may be a race to the left in the Democratic primary. But if Delaney’s and Gillibrand’s comments are any indication, there’s also a race to the center.

After meeting with the statehouse Democrats, Delaney told reporters he described himself to legislators as moderate, centrist and a pragmatic idealist.

“What I’m running on is what I think the party should be, which is we should be pragmatic idealists,” Delaney said. “We should have a vision for how to build a better future, but we should also get behind things that make sense, can get done, and where there’s an opportunity to, build coalitions so that we can actually make progress.”

On the day the race was joined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the self-described Democratic socialist who turbocharged the 2016 Democratic primary before losing to Hillary Clinton, Delaney doubled down on his pragmatic pitch.

“Increasingly, I do think the race is being framed between people who actually have real solutions and a track record of actually building coalitions to get things done and people who are proposing things that are either unrealistic or really do ring of socialism in our country. And I don’t think that’s what the voters are looking for,” Delaney said.

Delaney has been campaigning across Iowa since 2017. He has already visited all 99 counties and has been advertising on television. And a new round of Delaney ads is going up this week, according to a website that tracks campaign ad spending.

“I want to do big things. A lot of the goals I’m working toward are similar to what the other candidates are,” Delaney said. “But I actually have real plans for how to make them happen and build the kinds of coalitions you need to build.”

Gillibrand said she highlighted her two elections to the U.S. House of Representatives in a New York district that had been represented by a Republican for the previous three terms — Gillibrand defeated a two-term Republican lawmaker in 2006 by 8 percentage points and then in 2008 won re-election by 23 percentage points. She won her Senate race in 2012 by a big margin, receiving 72 percent of the vote.

“Because what I do is I bring people together,” Gillibrand told reporters after meeting with the statehouse Democrats. “And I think what we need right now is a president who can ... heal this country, to bring us together on common ground.”

Gillibrand said a unifying candidate is needed because, she said, President Donald Trump has “created division and hate and a darkness across this country.”

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“We’ve always cared about each other. We’ve believed in the golden rule that you should treat others the way you want to be treated, that we should care about the least among us,” Gillibrand said. “I think I have the courage and the conviction and the determination to take on the corruption, the greed that dominates everything in Washington and create a stronger vision for America about what makes us a strong country.”

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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