(Bloomberg) — The Democratic presidential contenders are descending in force on Iowa this weekend to persuade voters and party activists that they have the message and organization to win the first-in-the-nation nominating contest.
As campaigning accelerates leading up to the first debates later this month, 19 of the 23 Democrats actively running to challenge President Donald Trump will be in the state, the biggest assembly of 2020 candidates to date.
The marquee event is the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame dinner on Sunday, where they’ll be making five-minute pitches to influential local party officials. Missing from the group is Joe Biden, the current front-runner who is waiting until Tuesday to campaign in Iowa.
The dinner will let each candidate showcase the support and infrastructure they’ve built in Iowa, where caucuses in February launch the months-long, 50-state series of contests leading to the party’s nomination. Since the beginning of the year, hopefuls have collectively visited Iowa about 200 times, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“All these folks want to have the chance of trying to create favorable optics,” said Dennis Goldford, professor of political science at Drake University. “How can they best use the enthusiasm of their supporters to propel them to be the focus of attention?”
The next big milestones in the campaign will be the South Carolina Democratic weekend on June 21 and 22, when 20 candidates, including Biden, are set to appear at a fish fry hosted by Representative Jim Clyburn, and two nights of debates in Miami on June 26 and 27.
Shows of Strength
The candidates, including top contenders Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, will make their case inside a crowded ballroom the size of a football field at the DoubleTree Hotel in Cedar Rapids. But perhaps more important than their pitch will be how many supporters, activists and volunteers each candidate can muster inside and outside the venue, a way to show off the enthusiasm surrounding their campaign and stand out in a crowded field.
The Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame gives about 1,400 potential caucus-goers their first opportunity to compare and contrast rivals. Even at this early stage in the cycle, contenders could sway supporters away from competitors or win over voters who are still undecided. The crowded field and the brief stage presence at the event are putting pressure on campaigns to find more ways to get attention.
The action at this year’s event won’t be confined to the dinner, as candidates take over downtown Cedar Rapids, hoping to monopolize attention and energize supporters.
Candidates have scheduled events in the state throughout the weekend, and many will be attending the 2019 Pride Fest in Des Moines on Saturday.
Sanders will arrive at the dinner with a parade of McDonald’s workers and union members demonstrating for a $15 an hour minimum after a rally at one of the fast-food chain’s restaurants nearby.
Rallies and Marches
Harris plans to hold a rally a few doors away from the main event and is expected to march to the dinner with her supporters waving her campaign signs and chanting, according to Miryam Lipper, her Iowa communications director.
Buttigieg is hosting a picnic at a park a few blocks away from the hotel, with a live band, food truck and face-painting. Amy Klobuchar will host a kickoff event across the street from the venue. Cory Booker will be greeting supporters outside the hotel.
Warren’s campaign is planning on being “active and visible’’ along the main street outside the hotel and will be accompanied to the event by “dozens of Iowa supporters,’’ her campaign said in a press release.
O’Rourke is not only focused on the event but “on organizing across the state and having conversations with Iowans,” the campaign’s Iowa communications director Geoff Burgan said. O’Rourke will open his first field office in Cedar Rapids the night before.
Tickets for the dinner, which is a fundraiser for the Iowa Democratic Party, range between $75 for general admission and $10,000 for VIP tables. Each campaign was given equal access to purchase tickets and distribute them accordingly, said Mandy McClure, communications director for the Iowa Democratic Party.
Sanders and O’Rourke’s campaigns each bought five tables, according to their Iowa campaign staff, who declined to comment on how much those cost. Bullock bought one table, according to his staff. The number of tickets and tables each campaign purchased could provide a window into their organizational and fundraising efforts in the state, according to Joshua Darr, a political science professor at Louisiana State University.
“While there’s 7 months left until the caucuses, you only get so many of these opportunities to make Iowa democrats feel important,” Darr said.