Government

Presidential politics beats the heat at Progress Iowa Corn Feed

Hundreds of Democrats flock to Cedar Rapids despite 90-degree heat

Progress Iowa Corn Feed participant uses a poster as sun blocker while listening to speakers at NewBo City Market July 14, 2019.
Progress Iowa Corn Feed participant uses a poster as sun blocker while listening to speakers at NewBo City Market July 14, 2019.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Ninety-degree heat, layers of sweat, cramps and the absence of his preferred candidate was not going to keep Jacob Poorman from getting the 17th signature on his baseball from a 2020 presidential candidate.

“The ball goes a long way in determining what kind of people they are,” said Poorman, 60, of Winthrop. “Whether they sign it or not, where they sign it, how they sign it, what’s their signature look like. ... In a way, it’s kind of like showing you what kind of person they are.”

Because there are so many Democratic candidates — with 10 of them gathered Sunday afternoon in Cedar Rapids — he’s on his second baseball. Poorman was not alone Sunday in braving the heat as the Progress Iowa Corn Feed brought an estimated 2,500 Democrats to the NewBo District of Cedar Rapids to hear presidential candidates make their cases.

According to the National Weather Service, the “feels like” temperature Sunday afternoon in Cedar Rapids neared 100 degrees. But like with Poorman, that wasn’t enough to keep Jeannine Grady, 56, chair of the Marshall County Democrats, from attending the event held outside the NewBo City Market.

“Thousands are coming out to a day like today, where it’s just miserable out,” Grady said. “It’s what I love about Iowa. You get to rub elbows with all the candidates.”

With over six months until the Iowa caucuses in February, there is little consensus among Democratic voters beyond their quest to vote GOP President Donald Trump out of office. Poorman, for one, likened living in the Trump era to being “attacked by a grizzly bear, a polar bear and a brown bear all on the same day.”

While South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar drew the loudest applause of the 10 candidates who appeared, Iowans are still narrowing their lists.

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Amee Durbin of Cedar Rapids has her list down to four or five, “but everyone on my top four are underdogs.” She was wearing a sticker for former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who spoke at the event Sunday.

Fellow Cedar Rapidian Kathy Maddigan also came without a clear favorite, saying she had an “absolute not” list but a longer list of candidates she could support. She’s leaning toward Buttigieg.

“I can say this because I’m old, but I’m not interested in (former Vice President Joe) Biden or (Vermont Sen) Bernie (Sanders),” Maddigan said. “We need someone younger. Someone who can carry it on.”

Donning two Buttigieg stickers and a Buttigieg T-shirt, Ruth Brackett-Cripe of Fairbank is among the apparently few voters locked in on a particular candidate. She said she decided on Buttigieg in April and came to the Corn Feed specifically to see him speak. He’s a candidate she said she can get her conservative husband to support.

“He told me that if I could find somebody, in his words, who is as smart as Jed Bartlet from West Wing,” Brackett-Cripe said. “I told him, ‘I found him.’”

Many of the candidates gaining the most support in public opinion polls Biden, Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris — did not attend but had organized tents and volunteers.

As Poorman eyed the crowd for more candidates to sign his ball, he said he would vote for Warren if the caucuses were held now, but still is open to voting for other candidates. He said health care, immigration and cybersecurity are the issues most important to him. He appreciates how Warren gets smaller donations from people like him instead of accepting PAC money.

Caroline King, who moved to Ankeny follow politics after working as a political-science professor, also could see herself caucusing for Warren.

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“She won’t capitulate” like she said Sanders did in 2016. “She might be standing out there alone, but she won’t capitulate to the Republicans.”

Other Iowans like Wendy Roltgen of Fairfax and Gretchen Sealls of Cedar Rapids wished Harris had been there.

But many organizations had tents at the Corn Feed, with hopes of spreading the word about their particular causes. It included a mix of national groups with local chapters and Iowa-based groups. There was an Iowa-based group fighting for statehood for Washington, D.C., with help from the national group 51 for 51, which was at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame celebration in June.

Moms Demand Action, Planned Parenthood, March for Our Lives and Sunrise Movement were among the national groups in attendance.

Part of Sunrise Movement’s goal was to persuade U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who represents Northeast Iowa and gave the opening remarks, to support the Green New Deal.

Group members held signs with one letter on each, spelling “Green New Deal” as Finkenauer gave her remarks.

Other groups used the event to capture the attention of the Democratic base in Iowa.

“We are looking for people to get involved on our mailing lists and in our organization,” said Olivia Kennedy, 17, a Cedar Rapids Washington High graduate and advocate for March for Our Lives. “We’re also trying to spread awareness for our next event” — Dance for Our Lives on July 20.

“Our goal is to just educate folks,” said Derek Snyder of Des Moines, who advocated for biofuel usage. “It’s not the easiest thing to talk about ... but we think it’s important to have conversations with people in Iowa to let them know why it’s important to support this industry.”

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In the meantime, Poorman will have plenty of time to get the remaining signatures. Despite only five to six candidates polling above 2 percent, several candidates remain optimistic about polling higher once the field narrows.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy, said he won’t drop out until after the Iowa caucuses are decided.

When asked if she’d stay in the race if she doesn’t qualify for future televised debates, author Marianne Williamson said, “I plan to qualify.”

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

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