Democratic candidates play into their personal brands at Liberty and Justice Dinner

Candidates attempted to differentiate themselves from the large Democratic field at the Liberty and Justice Celebration, while Beto O'Rourke announced the end of his campaign.

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Democratic candidates play into their personal brands at Liberty and Justice Dinner

Former Secretary of Housing and Development Julian Castro speaks during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

Former Secretary of Housing and Development Julian Castro speaks during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

Shivansh Ahuja

Former Secretary of Housing and Development Julian Castro speaks during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Former Secretary of Housing and Development Julian Castro speaks during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

Julia Shanahan, Assistant Politics Editor

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Democratic presidential hopefuls played into their personal brands at the largest fundraiser in the Democratic caucus’s history, turning out some of the largest organizing efforts so far with supporters lining the streets of downtown Des Moines as early as 6 a.m.

Texan Beto O’Rourke gave an emotional speech outside the Wells Fargo arena before the Liberty and Justice Celebration announcing his decision to drop out of the 2020 race, echoing his concession speech after losing the 2018 race for a U.S. senate seat from Texas.

“This is a campaign that has prided itself on seeing things clearly, and speaking honestly, and acting decisively,” Beto said to a group of supporters on Friday. “We have to clearly see at this point, that we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully.”

Shivansh Ahuja
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke addresses supporters after dropping his bid for the democratic nomination during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

Campaigns showed their numbers, with each group sporting their signature colors along the sidewalks of the venue, including O’Rourke’s black and white signage. Thirteen candidates gave speeches at the Wells Fargo Arena, a venue used for sporting events and concerts — the largest venue for any campaign event in Iowa so far. O’Rourke was scheduled to give a speech but did not take the stage.

Donna Compton said O’Rourke is still her candidate. She’s from Dallas, Texas, and has been traveling the country with O’Rourke since he announced his candidacy. She said his announcement was unexpected, and she had already bought airline tickets to travel to future events.

“When you see him in person, you get this feeling that everything’s gonna be okay — despite the chaos going on,” Compton said. “And ever since the first time I ever saw him I was like, ‘This is my leader, and where he goes, I go.’”

For decades, the Iowa Democratic Party has hosted some kind of fall fundraiser, notorious for attracting celebrity endorsers and enormous organizing efforts from presidential campaigns. The Liberty and Justice Celebration, formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, has been credited by the news media as being a turning point for many Democrats in past presidential-election cycles, including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., jogged out onto the stage, waving to supporters, and gave her pitch about breaking up large corporations. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., gave one of his impassioned speeches, talking about a former mentor from his time as mayor of Newark. Former Vice President Joe Biden spent much of his time attacking President Trump, and California Senator Kamala Harris championed her time as a prosecutor, representing the voiceless.

Shivansh Ahuja
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

For some lower-polling candidates such as Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., they focused on their ability to win over counties that flipped red after the 2016 election. 

Carole Callaghan, an O’Rourke volunteer in Colorado, said she came to the event to help organize for the campaign by setting up Beto signs across the downtown area. Prior to O’Rourke dropping his bid, she said low polling numbers do not deter her from supporting candidates, because, she said, polls are not always representative of who will turn out on Election Day.

“You know, [O’Rourke] says, what he thinks is right, and it turns out that that’s what people want,” Callaghan said.

There were about 13,000 people in attendance at the Wells Fargo arena, according to the Iowa Democratic Party, breaking the previous attendance record of 9,000. Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg had the most amount of supporters in attendance. The campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., did not have a labeled section in the arena.

The Warren section of the arena could be distinguished by light-up paraphernalia emitting a liberty-green glow, a color coined by the campaign referring to the color of the Statue of Liberty. Harris supporters waved yellow inflatable sticks and propped up large, glow-up letters that read Harris’ campaign mantra inspired by her time as a prosecutor — “justice for the people.”  

Shivansh Ahuja
Supporters of Sen. Cory Booker cheer during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

There are currently 15 Democrats still seeking the nomination, with Warren and Biden neck-and-neck at the top of the polls in Iowa, and Sanders and Buttigieg creeping in close behind.

Buttigieg supporter Jeremy Moor said he arrived in Des Moines at 6 a.m. from Calhoun County to help organize for Buttigieg, and said he feels support for his candidate has been building up in Iowa and heading in the right direction. He said he’s frustrated with the amount of bottom-ticket candidates still in the race.

 “It feels like by this point we should have it narrowed down a little bit more so we can focus on people who are probably actually going to make it,” Moor said.

Some candidates, such as Andrew Yang and Klobuchar, brought celebrity endorsements to Iowa to campaign with them at events prior to the fundraiser. At a Yang event before the fundraiser, the lead singer from Weezer played for supporters, and at a Klobuchar event, a Minnesota-based Prince cover band performed at a rally.

Three months out from the Iowa caucuses, candidates are continuing their retail politicking in Iowa and emphasizing their personal qualities that set them apart from other candidates. The candidates will be making many other stops throughout the state this weekend.

 

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