Government

Even without presidential candidates, Johnson County Democrats show up at barbecue fundraiser

Attendees of all ages sit in the barbecue room both to enjoy food and to make conversation with one another at the Johnson County Democrats Barbecue Fundraiser at the Johnson County Fairgrounds on Sunday, October 18, 2015. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Attendees of all ages sit in the barbecue room both to enjoy food and to make conversation with one another at the Johnson County Democrats Barbecue Fundraiser at the Johnson County Fairgrounds on Sunday, October 18, 2015. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Johnson County is arguably — and proudly — the most Democratic county in the state.

According to the Secretary of State Office’s voter registration numbers, 29 percent of Johnson County residents are “active” Democratic voters. That’s higher than Polk (24 percent), Linn (23 percent), Scott (20 percent) or any of the other 10 most populous Iowa counties.

It’s also the only county that Terry Branstad never carried as a candidate for governor and regularly is the blueberry in the cherry Jell-O when election results are mapped.

“This is an important county in any election,” 2nd District U.S. House candidate Rita Hart noted during her remarks.

However, the Johnson County Democratic Party couldn’t attract a single 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful to its annual fall barbecue fundraiser Sunday at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City.

“It would have been nice to have some of them here today,” Johnson County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Taylor said.

“It’s a very busy time for them with events in Des Moines and the debate,” he said. Six of the candidates were participating in a labor union forum in Altoona.

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“It was bound to happen” that the Johnson County Democrats would have a barbecue without any presidential candidates or presumed candidates-to-be on the program, said Linda Yanney, who estimated she’s been to 38 fall barbecues in the 40 years she’s lived in Iowa City.

About 300 people attended the event.

“I bought tickets hoping some of them would be here,” said Donna Wong-Gibbons of North Liberty. She admitted to being disappointed by their absence. “I understand there are a lot of places they have to be, but this would have been a good opportunity to be together in one place.”

Although none of the candidates was in Johnson County on Sunday, Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar have been to the barbecue — more than once.

Some of the presidential hopefuls sent surrogates. Former Vice President Joe Biden sent Michigan U.S. Rep. Joe Tate — perhaps not the best choice to send into Hawkeye territory considering he played football for Michigan State University. South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Klobuchar sent elected officials to speak for them. Sanders sent a comedian.

Paul Roesler of Iowa City wasn’t surprised that candidates weren’t present and thought it would be interesting to hear what the surrogates had to say.

However, in Iowa, where serious candidates have to show up to win support in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses, nothing shows up like showing up.

“It doesn’t help them not to be here,” said David Huckabee, who is moving from Chicago to Iowa City. “If one of them showed up, they’d score some points.”

That’s true, Taylor said, but Johnson County Democrats will show up for their nominee whether or not he or she was at the barbecue.

“We’re going to go blue no matter what,” Taylor said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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