Jonathan Van Ness brings star power to Iowa for Elizabeth Warren

Jonathan Van Ness campaigned for Elizabeth Warren, drawing audiences numbering well into the hundreds in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.


Hayden Froehlich

Hairstylist and reality TV Star Jonathan Van Ness introduces Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at NewBo Market in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Jan. 26. Van Ness endorsed Warren and spoke about her platform issues such as health care and discrimination.

Rylee Wilson, Politics Reporter

Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness drew hundreds of people out while campaigning for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sunday afternoon — though many students said they are still not sure which candidate they are supporting a week before the caucus.

Van Ness spoke to a student-heavy audience in Iowa City of a couple hundred people so tightly packed into LGBTQ night club Studio 13 that attendees couldn’t maneuver through the crowd.

There, Van Ness — a Quincy, Illinois native — said it was time to “Caucus like you’ve never caucused before.”

University of Iowa students in the audience said that Van Ness was a major draw to the event.

Hayden Froehlich
Hairstylist and reality TV Star Jonathan Van Ness speaks at a rally for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at Studio 13 on Jan. 26. Van Ness endorsed Warren and spoke about her platform issues such as health care and discrimination.

Third-year student Jenna Door came to the event hoping Van Ness would sign her copy of his memoir.

Door said she plans to caucus, but is still deciding between Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Door, who has seen both Warren and Sanders speak before, said Van Ness’ support was not a factor in her decision to support either Warren or Sanders, and said the candidates are too similar for her to decide just yet.

Fourth-year UI student Jacob Almanza attended the Studio 13 event, and said he’s currently leaning toward supporting Sanders.

“I will more than likely be caucusing for Sanders, but if Warren does get the nomination, I’ll support her fully,” Almanza said.

Though the event was advertised as a meet and greet, Van Ness spoke for around 10 minutes and briefly took photos with attendees before heading to the town hall at NewBo market in Cedar Rapids.

On a temporary stage in the Cedar Rapids market, Van Ness said he was drawn to Warren after discovering that an HIV drug cost $3,500.

“I realized in that moment that this is a public-health crisis — people need to have access to the medication they need. I realized that Elizabeth Warren is the policy expert, and she’s a leader who I’ve looked up to for years and years and she has the policies to back it up. She has the plans to unify our country and I was like, ‘That is who the future of America is,’ ” Van Ness said.

The Cedar Rapids town hall with Van Ness drew around 900 people, according to the Warren campaign.

Other campaigns have tried to attract Iowans to their events with high-profile endorsers. A rally with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez campaigning for Sanders in Iowa City Jan. 24 drew a similar crowd size of 822, according to the Sanders campaign. Actress and singer songwriter Mandy Moore campaigned in Des Moines for former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has stumped across the Hawkeye State for former Vice President Joe Biden.

One attendee posed a question to Warren asking why Iowans should choose her over Sanders, and the senator received another question about whether she could convince older white voters to support her.

Warren said she is the only candidate in the Democratic race to beat an incumbent Republican in the last 30 years, a line she used on the most recent Debate stage, and argued that women are electable.

“Women candidates have been outperforming male candidates in elections ever since [2016],” Warren said. “We took back the House, we took back statehouses around the country, because women ran for office and women showed up to make those elections winnable.”

Mt. Vernon resident Karen Mills said she’s seen almost every Democratic candidate three or four times working as a stagehand at various places in eastern Iowa setting up events for candidates.

Mills stayed to see Warren after setting up the event and said she will definitely caucus for the senator.

Mills said Warren’s electability doesn’t worry her, and Barack Obama’s election in 2008 proved that perceived “electability” doesn’t always predict the winner.

“I think Elizabeth Warren has shown electability — and I’m concerned about this ‘electability’ thing because I feel like it’s a catchphrase that people who are white, and male, and cis use consistently — I think it’s a false flag,” Mills said.

Mills said she was familiar with Van Ness, though he was not the main draw to the event for her.

“It’s nice to see all the young queer people here, and I think Van Ness brings them out,” she said.