Sean Bagnirwski

About 1,500 Democrats bought tickets for today’s re-appearance of the “steak fry” tradition former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin hosted each fall.

The afternoon event, held outdoors in a Des Moines park, opened with a lightening-round of brief speeches from 14 Democratic candidates who are running for governor or who are running in Iowa’s third congressional district. It closed with longer remarks from three Democrats from Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts offering their thoughts on party revival in 2018 and beyond.

Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio said the party is “at its best” when it focuses “like a laser beam” on “ordinary people.”

“We lost ’em and we lost ’em to Trump,” Ryan said, “and while I’m mad at the Republicans, I’m just as mad at us for letting that happen. There’s no way this guy should be president of the United States, no way at all.”

AUDIO of Ryan’s speech, 22:00

Ryan said Democrats should quit talking so much about a $15-an-hour minimum wage and, instead, stress the “aspiration” of helping Americans land and keep “good, high-wage” jobs.

Cheri Bustos of Illinois won reelection to congress by 20 points last year — in a U.S. House district that Donald Trump carried.

“So I know a thing or two about Donald Trump voters,” Bustos told the crowd earlier this afternoon. “…It’s like a knife to my heart that there are some in the Democratic Party who just want to write off districts like mine and forget about states like Iowa and say that it’s just too darned hard to elect Democrats in rural America.”

AUDIO of Bustos’ speech, 16:35

Bustos advised her party to focus on “results” for the “forgotten places” in America, rather than “resistance” to Trump.

Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton said Democrats cannot offer voters “the same old thing” and expect to win again.

“We’ve got to get back in touch with those voters that we have lost,” he said, “because the reality is that a lot of Americans feel left behind not just by Republicans, but by our country.”

AUDIO of Mouton’s speech, 18:00

The three members of congress downplayed the idea their visits to Iowa were a prelude to a 2020 presidential campaign. Democrat Tom Hockensmith, a member of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, said he’s not keeping a 2020 scorecard yet.

“I couldn’t tell you right now who might even be in the wings,” Hockensmith said this afternoon.

Hockensmith said party activists will begin paying closer attention early next year to the Iowa Democrats who are waging campaigns in 2018.

The speechmaking from those candidates began shortly after a long-time party activist experienced a medical emergency and was taken away in an ambulance. A candidate for governor who is a doctor administered CPR until emergency responders arrived. Andy McGuire later got a round of applause from the crowd when the Polk County Democrats’ chairman announced the woman McGuire attended to was breathing and McGuire may have saved the woman’s life.