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2020 Dems Descend on Iowa              09/21 08:54

   DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- When Barack Obama marched into the 2007 Iowa steak 
fry flanked by 1,000 supporters, skeptical Iowans were put on notice that he 
could win the caucus. A dozen years later, a new generation of Democratic White 
House hopefuls is looking to pull off a repeat performance to turbocharge their 
campaigns.

   Saturday's steak fry is part parade, part organizing show of force --- and 
quintessentially Iowa. It began as a fundraiser for Tom Harkin's first 
congressional bid, where the 53 attendees could buy a steak and a foil-wrapped 
baked potato for $2.

   Harkin is out of politics now, but the steak fry lives on as a fundraiser 
for the Polk County Democratic Party. This year, 11,000 people are expected to 
join in addition to 19 presidential candidates. Attendees can listen to bands, 
munch on 10,500 steaks or get food from food trucks, a vegan grill or a craft 
beer tent.

   There are even camping grounds, where supporters of former Texas Rep. Beto 
O'Rourke spent Friday night.

   The festival vibe has some Iowa activists calling the steak fry the 
"Coachella of the Caucuses," referring to the weekend-long music festival in 
California. Polk County Democratic Party Chairman Sean Bagniewski said the 
event purposely has a "modern twist."

   "That's the future of the party --- it's gonna be more women in positions of 
leadership, it's gonna be more people of color, and it's going to be more young 
people," he said.

   But what hasn't changed is the significance of the event for the 
presidential candidates. The steak fry comes as a number of candidates are 
reconfiguring their Iowa approach.

   California Sen. Kamala Harris this week announced she would focus more 
heavily on Iowa in hopes of finishing in the top three. Meanwhile flagging 
campaigns like that of O'Rourke and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are 
campaigning beyond Iowa in an effort to broaden their national appeal.

   Bagniewski said that, like 2007, Democrats are looking for someone who can 
show they've got the organizational strength to win.

   "Everyone wants to beat Donald Trump," he said. "Everyone has a top 5, but 
when you actually see that your candidate of choice has 1,000 people supporting 
them at the Steak Fry, it gives you more liberty to make that decision."

   Over four decades, the event has seen plenty of rock-star moments.

   In 2014, the final year Harkin hosted the event, Hillary Clinton returned to 
Iowa for the first time since Obama beat her in the 2008 caucuses. She was 
welcomed by a jubilant crowd chanting "Hillary, Hillary," as speculation about 
a second presidential campaign swirled. With a cheeky smile, she stretched her 
arms out to the audience of thousands, saying "Well, hello Iowa. I'm back!"

   This year, a number of the candidates will kick off the festivities by 
hosting celebrations for their supporters beforehand, featuring everything from 
live bands to carnival-style games.

   Many are planning an Obama-esque march into the event --- amping up the 
pressure on their teams to turn up big numbers to the event, as any flagging 
campaigns will be painfully obvious. Campaigns are bussing and flying 
supporters in from out of state to boost their numbers, and the Polk County 
Democratic Party says they've sold tickets to attendees from 48 states. Former 
Vice President Joe Biden is widely believed to have sold the most tickets to 
the event, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg not far behind him.

   Biden will host what his team is calling "Bidenfest" beforehand, featuring a 
bouncy castle, an ice cream truck and bands, and he'll be marching in with a 
fire truck and a marching band from a Waterloo-area Baptist church.

   California Sen. Kamala Harris will march into the event with striking 
McDonald's workers demanding a $15 an hour wage, as well as the Isiserettes, a 
local Des Moines drumline that appeared regularly at Obama events, including 
the 2007 steak fry and later his inauguration.

   But Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are 
skipping the march into the event. Warren has come under growing criticism from 
some of her rivals and her staff has said she's looking at the steak fry as 
more of an opportunity to connect with potential new supporters, rather than 
organize those she has already won.


(KR)

 
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