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Political Party Live! mixes issues, art, culture and fun

Progressive podcast aims to engage young people in politics

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker participates June 9 in a Political Party Live! podcast with panelists Stacey Walker, Akwi Nji and Simeon Talley while at Gene’s Bar at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City. So far, the podcast has attracted six of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — besides Booker, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. (James Year/Freelance)
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker participates June 9 in a Political Party Live! podcast with panelists Stacey Walker, Akwi Nji and Simeon Talley while at Gene’s Bar at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City. So far, the podcast has attracted six of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates — besides Booker, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro. (James Year/Freelance)
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Craft breweries seem to have displaced Pizza Ranch restaurants as a venue of choice for presidential hopefuls, and a forum offering the best of both — beer and pizza — is quickly becoming a must-do on the Iowa campaign trail.

Political Party Live!, a podcast recorded before live audiences in casual settings, already has attracted six of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. Its creators are looking at ways to continue the mash-up of arts, culture, music and politics after the caucus race ends in February.

So far, Political Party Live! has hosted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

“We want to provide a platform for new voices, for progressive politics,” said Simeon Talley, an Iowa City entrepreneur and one of the Political Party Live! founders. “For us, it’s about creating this platform to reach more people, to talk about issues that people like us care about.”

“People like us” refers to younger voters, people of color and others underrepresented in the political process, said Stacey Walker, a Linn County supervisor, and like Talley, a veteran of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.

With Iowa City business owner Veronica Tessler — who was involved in the 2016 Draft Warren movement — they kicked off Political Party Live! three years ago as a spur-of-the-moment State of the Union watch party.

It was a way to make politics fun for millennials, “something for progressives to come together for, something other than just politics,” Walker said. “We realized a lot of energy goes into campaigns, but there wasn’t a mechanism to help keep people focused between elections.”

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From the start, the idea was to create something that didn’t exist. After three years, the trio believes it’s succeeding with a format Walker describes as a combination of interviewing, speed networking and entertainment.

“We’ve perfected a model that blends art, culture and politics” and in the run-up to the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Walker said, “we’ve found this to be an attractive venue for presidential candidates who are looking for new ways to connect with voters.”

“Fun is a big component, too,” Talley said. Most of the podcasts are recorded in venues like Gene’s Bar, the Iowa City Yacht Club and The Mill where both food and alcohol are available.

“We wanted a podcast that candidates want to come on and we get people to show up. At the basic level, we’ve been successful,” Talley added.

The feedback from candidates, podcast guest hosts and people attending the events has been “encouragement to keep going and to do more.”

“That lets us know we’re on to something, that we’re doing something, at least a few things, right,” he said.

Earlier this month, Political Party Live! did back-to-back podcasts with Sanders on a Friday night at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and Booker on a Saturday at Gene’s Bar at the Graduate Hotel in Iowa City.

It’s a lot of work, “but it’s really fun to do an event that people find interesting. They learn something, meet new people and leave motivated,” Walker said.

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The June 7 Political Party Live! in Coe’s Sinclair Auditorium followed the familiar format. Before Sanders sat down to be interviewed by Talley, Walker and guest panelist Lauren Beaumont, local musician Elizabeth Moen and her band played a 30-minute set.

Next up was Robert Reynolds, a behavioral scientist behind Vote Tripling, which campaigns use to ask supporters to hold three friends accountable for voting. He was followed by J.D. Scholten, a favorite among Iowa progressives despite losing to U.S. Rep. Steve King last year, who talked about his new gigs with Working Hero Iowa, which promotes use of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and One Country, which is working to engage the Democratic Party in rural America.

The progressive panelists didn’t lob softballs at Sanders. He was asked whether caucusgoers should consider his age — 77 — and whether he supported reparations for slavery. And an audience member demanded to know whether he had read all 400-plus pages of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Not all the pages in the report, Sanders said, “but the essential parts.”

Although millennial-geared, the podcast attracts people of all ages. At the recording of the segment with Sanders, the audience included youngsters with their parents and folks in the septuagenarian candidate’s age cohort.

Nick Rossa of Cedar Rapids, who described himself as “so-so” in terms of political activity, has been following Sanders since 2014. But he hasn’t committed to any of the candidates.

“I’m putting out feelers,” he said. “I’m not sure who is my lead candidate.”

Andrea “Andy” Cooley hasn’t decided who to support, “but you need to be listening, paying attention.”

She was there with her husband, Gentle, and their sons to expose them to the political process.

“It doesn’t matter who the candidate is, we take them,” Gentle said.

In some ways Political Party Live! is like a typical campaign event.

At the one featuring him, Booker worked the room, answering questions and discussing policy in English and Spanish. He answered questions about science and family farms posed by Lecia and Eric Epping, a researcher and physician, respectively, at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

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Mental health advocates Leslie and Scott Carpenter from Iowa City lobbied Booker for more action from the federal government on the issue.

He took time to take selfies and created a belated Mother’s Day video message for a young man whose mother insisted he meet Booker while the candidate was in Iowa City.

From the start, the Political Party Live! creators were looking down the road, Walker said. The early goal was to survive long enough get to the caucus season.

“We’re starting to have those conversations. How does this continue to happen? Can it live on?” Talley says.

However, he points out that even before there were 20-plus presidential candidates, Political Party Live! was podcasting, hosting events, working with local activists and political figures “to raise important issues and important voices, voices we thought we should know more about.”

Walker has plans, too.

“I’m dreaming big,” Walker said with a slight smile. “I’m thinking about taking the show on the road.”

Whatever the future looks like, Talley said, “it will be rooted in elevating diverse, young voices and really trying to engage people in politics in their community in a way that is new and culturally relevant.”

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

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