The two Democrats who have formally emerged to challenge Hillary Clinton for their party’s 2016 presidential nomination visited Iowa this weekend. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders attracted overflow crowds in Ames and Davenport, then Sanders capped his three-day trip with a Saturday night stop in Kensett, where more than 300 people greeted him.
“People are extremely frustrated with status quo economics, the greed of the top one percent, establishment politics,” Sanders told reporters on his way into Kensett’s community center. “…People want a movement, to be part of a movement that takes on the billionaire class. Let me be as blunt as I can be: you have a handful of people in this country with enormous economic and political power who are getting it all.”
Sixty-eight-year-old Tom Reid of Northwood was there in Kensett. He is hoping Sanders “yanks” Hillary Clinton “to the left.”
“I thought I was voting for a liberal when I voted for Obama and we ended up with Bush Lite and I don’t want any more of it,” Reid said during an interview. “I want a Democrat from the Democratic Party with Democratic values and I just don’t think Hillary is committed to that. I think she’s a corporatist. She’s a globalist.”
George Appleby, a long-time political activist in Des Moines who backed Barack Obama in 2008, is backing former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley this time around.
“I personally have Clinton fatigue,” Appleby said Saturday. “I think I’ve found my guy. I think he’s going to do really well.”
Recent polling in Iowa shows O’Malley is the choice of just three percent of likely Caucus-goers, about 50 percent behind Clinton. O’Malley is embracing that underdog role.
“I”m most comfortable actually as an underdog,” O’Malley said during an interview Saturday. “When I ran for mayor, my two opponents both had name recognition north of 80 percent and I was the first choice of a whopping seven percent of my neighbors.”
O’Malley won that 1999 race for mayor of Baltimore and is now touting his 15 years of “executive experience” as a mayor and a former governor.
“What I find so refreshing about the Iowa Caucuses is that people here aren’t intimidated by big money or polls or the pundits,” O’Malley said. “And they do expect to see each of the candidates and to be able to ask them questions.”
O’Malley delivered that subtle dig at the kind of events Clinton has held as he chatted with reporters in Des Moines Saturday night. O’Malley also answered 16 questions from the crowd of more than 200 people who’d crammed into his Iowa headquarters to hear his message. John Kaiser of Des Moines is retired but still active in the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and he was there to see O’Malley. Kaiser’s “not real happy” with the way Clinton has handled questions about U.S. trade negotiations.
“She’s got to change her mind…on the Pacific trade agreement or she’s not going to get much labor support from anybody,” Kaiser said.
Dan Frederich of Ogden supported Clinton in 2008 but now that he’s chairman of the Boone County Democratic Party, he won’t endorse before the Caucuses — and he’s encouraging all Iowa Democrats to give O’Malley, Sanders and Clinton a listen.
“We’re going to have an opportunity to pick the best person to represent us not only in the next primary season, but as the next president of the United States,” Frederich said.
Des Moines attorney Jerry Crawford, a long-time supporter of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, expects both O’Malley and Sanders to “run hard” in Iowa — and he said Sanders already has become the “darling” of “philosophical purists” in the Democratic Party.
“We Democrats are a bit addicted to controversy and to conflict and to competition and so it was inevitable that this would happen,” Crawford said during a weekend appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program. “…But Hillary Clinton’s ready to fight for every vote.”
And Clinton’s “ground game” of identifying Caucus-night supporters is well underway, according to Crawford. Clinton has two and a half dozen paid field staff scattered around the state to make those connections at the precinct level. Early polls have shown Clinton to be the strong favorite among Iowa Democrats who are likely to attend the 2016 Caucuses. A Quinnipiac University poll in early May found Clinton had 60 percent support, compared to 15 percent for Sanders.
(Reporting in Kensett by Bob Fisher of KGLO Radio; additional reporting & editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson in Des Moines)