Potential 2020 Democratic contenders test caucus messages

IOWA CITY — Feb. 3, 2020, is closer than you think.

The accolades to Iowa Democrats — past, present and future — and aspirational rhetoric from four potential contenders for the their party’s presidential nomination Sunday afternoon sounded like stump speeches that will be delivered on the campaign trail ahead of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses in 2020.

U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell of California and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg promised a change in the tone of national politics and a return to Democratic values if the party regains control of Congress.

Before then, however, Democrats need to knock on doors, make phone calls and turn out the votes this November to re-elect Democratic U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack and flip Iowa from red to blue, the speakers reminded more than 300 people at Loebsack’s annual Brews and BBQ fundraiser outside Iowa City. Loebsack is seeking a seventh term.

Eric Swalwell

Delivering on the Democratic agenda will be easier after Democrats go “four for Iowa” by electing challengers Abby Finkenauer, Cindy Axne and J.D. Scholten in the 1st, 3rd and 4th districts, Swalwell said.

He paid tribute to retired Sen. Tom Harkin, who was in the audience, calling him a “moral compass for our country (whose) work lives on.”

When Democrats regain control of the U.S. House, Swalwell said they will restore the four freedoms President Franklin Roosevelt talked about: freedom of speech — rather than attacks on the media; freedom of worship rather than a Muslim ban; freedom from fear for immigrants; and freedom from want by protecting Social Security and Medicare.

The Sac City native predicted a Democratic majority will build a “uniquely American freedom — the freedom to dream.”

“The idea that if we give every family a chance, so their paychecks are not eaten up by health care costs, so that tax cuts go to every person, so we root out corruption … that keeps us from working for working families, so every child if we unleash their true potential, can have that American dream,” Swalwell said.

Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve who served in Afghanistan, encouraged Democrats to reclaim words like “freedom” and “security” from Republicans. Democrats, he said, are the ones who understand freedom and security “in its deepest sense.”


“You are not free if you can’t change jobs because you are afraid you will lose your health care,” Buttigieg said. “We know you’re not free if you can’t organize for a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. We know you’re not free if a county clerk gets to tell you who to marry based on their interpretation of their religion.”

If Democrats use those words and talk about their values, “When we get to Nov. 6 … there will not be one person left who ever again says we don’t know what Democrats are for,” he said.

“We’re here for each other, for the people who depend on us, the people — and all of us are among those people — whose very lives depend on decisions by elected officials. We’re here for freedom. We’re here for security,” Buttigieg said.

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard greeted the crowd by saying “aloha,” which, she explained, in its deepest meaning means life.

“So when we say ‘aloha’ to each other, it’s more than ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ It’s a deep and powerful recognition that we all are interconnected,” she said.

A major in the Hawaii National Guard who served in Iraq, Gabbard spoke of the need for peace.

“Too few leaders are talking about how the cost of our interventions in regime change wars, trillions of dollars over the last several years, is inextricably linked to the fact we lack resources to invest in rebuilding and strengthening our communities right here at home,” she said.

Peace cannot be relegated to a “side issue,” she said, because it’s impossible to separate Democrats’ calls for health care for all, for quality education for children, for making sure everyone has a roof over their heads and an opportunity for a great future from the fact the country has finite resources.

“We need to refocus back on investing in our people, our future, our planet,” Gabbard said.

Martin O’Malley

American democracy “has never been as challenged as our democracy is challenged right now,” said O’Malley, who many Democrats became familiar with during the 2016 caucus campaign. “The only way to save our democracy is by winning back states.”

O’Malley, who has formed the Win Back Your State PAC, has been to 27 states in support of more than 100 candidates.


Like the others, he’s been visiting Iowa in support of legislative and statewide candidates, including Tim Gannon, Rob Sand and Deidre DeJear, whom he referred to as the “Mod Squad.”

O’Malley talked about Democrats’ success in special elections since 2016 and how Democratic candidates have performed even in losses.

“It must happen here,” he said. “The truth is we can’t make children winners in the new economy, we can’t make our country work for everyone unless we first save our democracy.”

The 2018 election, he explained, is about preserving democracy and the “freedom our children deserve of a loving, compassionate, more generous country,” O’Malley said.

“It’s time to rise up for the country we carry in our hearts,” O’Malley said. “It’s time to rise up for the Iowa Robert Ray carried in his heart. It’s time to rise up for the right to give our children a better future. Rise up, Iowa.”

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