More than 6600 Democrats gathered in Des Moines Saturday for a raucous and high-stakes event that’s been the proving ground for presidential candidates of the past.
Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. Sanders reminded the crowd that the conventional wisdom eight years ago was that Barack Obama “was unelectable.”
“Well, Iowa, I think we are going to prove the pundits wrong again. I believe we’re going to make history one more time,” Sanders said.
AUDIO of Sanders’ speech
Sanders did not say the name “Hillary Clinton” during his remarks, but he questioned Clinton’s decades-long record on issues important to the party’s most liberal members, from trade policy to same-sex marriage. When Clinton took the stage, she defended Obama Administration milestones like the Affordable Care Act. Clinton also told the crowd the stakes are high for November of 2016.
“It’s not enough just to rail against the Republicans or the billionaires,” Clinton said. “We actually have to win this election in order to rebuild the middle class and make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
AUDIO of Clinton’s speech
Martin O’Malley aimed a few barbs at Clinton and Sanders during his speech, but O’Malley — who is far behind them in the polls here and elsewhere — expressed “tremendous…respect” for Clinton and Sanders as soon as he got on stage.
“All of us here tonight agree that we cannot allow Donald Trump or any of the Trump wannabees in the Republican Party to take over our White House. Can we agree on that?” O’Malley asked, to cheers from his supporters and applause from the rest of the audience.
AUDIO of O’Malley’s speech
Many in the crowd arrived Saturday afternoon for pep rallies with their favorite candidates outside before the evening’s main event and the atmosphere in the Iowa Events Center rivaled a state championship high school basketball game. Sanders got rousing cheers from his supporters after completing nearly every paragraph in his speech.
“You are not on the sidelines of these struggles. You are in this middle of this fight and that is what our campaign is all about,” Sanders said.
As Clinton stood in the spotlight of center stage, her supporters waved bright blue glow sticks in the darkly lit arena and cheered loudly throughout her speech.
“I’m not running for my husband’s third term and I’m not running for Barack Obama’s third term. I’m running for my first term and I’m running as a proud Democrat,” Clinton said, a reminder that Sanders is a Democratic socialist who is the longest serving independent in congress.
Saturday night’s event was the largest gathering of Iowa Democrats before the party holds its Caucuses on February 1. Party officials had “Commit to Caucus” cards for the crowd, trying to collect as many names, phone numbers and email addresses as possible for voter turn-out efforts for the 2016 General Election.