Guest Columnist

Whittling season is upon us, Iowa caucusgoers

Big events coming up to help narrow candidate field

Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. John Delaney takes a ride on the Giant Slide during the 2018 Iowa State Fair. (Photo for The Washington Post by Rachel Mummey)
Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. John Delaney takes a ride on the Giant Slide during the 2018 Iowa State Fair. (Photo for The Washington Post by Rachel Mummey)

The summer days are getting shorter. The Iowa State Fair is less than two weeks away.

You know what that means.

No, not back to school.

Iowa caucus season is about to get interesting.

Iowa Democrats have spent the entirety of 2019 wrestling with a historic field of candidates vying to be their party’s nominee to face President Donald Trump next year.

Iowa has developed a reputation for whittling the field of presidential candidates, and with roughly two dozen men and women running, that job has never been more daunting.

Democrats feel a bit overwhelmed not just by the sheer size of the field, but because they genuinely like something about most, if not all, of the candidates.

While in past caucus cycles Iowa Democrats would say this far out that they’re thinking about a few candidates, it’s not uncommon this year to hear Democrats say they’re still considering at least a half-dozen.

That very well may change in the coming weeks and months with some big events on the calendar.

It starts this week in Michigan with the second round of debates, which will be the last with the majority of the field on stage. The third round of debates, set for mid-September in Texas, will have a higher qualifying threshold and thus figures to feature a much smaller number of candidates.

So this week’s debates could be a last chance for candidates who continue to poll at 2 percent or less to have a breakout moment; if not, they may not be on the debate stage in September.

Then, back here at home, comes the Iowa State Fair, a prime opportunity for the candidates to get in front of a lot of Iowans.

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Most of the field have made plans to appear, including at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox. They will deliver speeches, field questions and flip pork chops.

During the first weekend of the fair, many candidates will head up Interstate 35 to Clear Lake for the annual Wing Ding on Aug. 9. As of Friday, 20 of the candidates are committed to speak at the event, making it the next big event with most of the field in the same room speaking to Iowa Democrats.

The Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry is scheduled for Sept. 21, just a week after the third debates, with that potentially reduced debate roster. At last count, 21 of the candidates were committed to appear at Des Moines Water Works Park for the Steak Fry.

Assuming none have dropped out around the third debates, it’s yet another opportunity for the huge field to get in front of a lot of likely caucusgoers.

That leaves the coming months’ final big event: the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall fundraiser. Scheduled for Nov. 1, the event has proved critical for the party’s presidential candidates in past pre-caucus years. This year’s event figures to be no different.

Those Iowa events — the state fair, Wing Ding, steak fry and fall gala — combined with the national debates are poised to arm Iowa Democrats with the information they seek as they attempt to navigate this remarkable field of candidates. It would not be surprising if, by the end of this series of events, that Iowa Democrats have their lists narrowed from a half-dozen or more candidates to a select few.

Buckle up, Iowa Democrats.

Let the whittling begin.

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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