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Columnist shares Iowa election experiences

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By the time this article is published, the Iowa caucuses will be over. Most of the candidates seeking to replace President Trump will have gone to New Hampshire; some may have dropped out. Most of the television ads we have had to endure this past year should be gone as well.

Probably no one would have paid much attention to the Iowa Caucus if Jimmy Carter hadn’t parlayed his 1976 caucus victory into a successful Presidential bid. Presidential hopefuls have started their campaigns in Iowa ever since.

This year, as I have done in the past, I made an effort to listen to some of the candidates when they came to Sioux City. Unlike the last Presidential election when there was no incumbent running, most of the candidates were Democrats.

The first event I attended was a Bernie Sanders rally in the Sioux City Convention Center. Of all the events I attended, his was the largest, loudest and longest. It was supposed to start at 6:30. I arrived an hour early. It took nearly 40 minutes to get through the security line and into the room in the convention center where the rally was held.

When I did get in, a volunteer asked me if I would like to stand on the risers behind the senator and hold a sign. I politely declined.

Most of the people looked like college kids and I would have looked like their chaperone. I was escorted to the geezer section just behind the handicapped section and about 10 feet to the left of a stack of large speakers.

Act one was a band from Alaska. Their first number was “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. The chorus is “We don’t need no education.” which seemed like an odd choice for a candidate who promises free college tuition. The music  lasted nearly an hour.

Act two was movie producer Michael Moore who talked about a half hour. His remarks were often strident - just what you would expect from a Hollywood liberal. I don’t think he was an asset to Sanders’ campaign.

Act three was Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, or AOC as she is commonly known. I was surprised she sounded intelligent and made a good speech. If she can keep her Congressional seat she might become a force in the national Democratic party.

Act four was Sen. Bernie Sanders. He talked about 40 minutes, during which time he promised free stuff to just about everyone but did not dwell on how to pay for it all. 

Among his promises were free college tuition, Medicare for all, open immigration, legalized marijuana, a woman’s right to choose, the Green New Deal, and other things I cannot recall. 

The crowd was predominantly young and enthusiastic. Sitting close to the public address speakers, I hoped his medical plan included free hearing aids. 

Some people left. I put in earplugs. Sanders also promised to do away with the Electoral College which would mean future Presidents would be chosen by voters in the large cities.  Rural voters might as well stay home.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke at Western Iowa Tech the next day. His crowd was smaller and  older than Bernie’s. But in the case of the Iowa caucuses, it is not the number of people who turn out to hear the candidates but the number who are willing to turn out for the caucuses. 

Caucuses require more of a commitment than voting. I suspect older people might turn out in greater numbers.

Biden seemed tired and made a rather uninspiring speech. 

I don’t know how many people of his (and Sanders’) age can keep up the pace day in and day out for weeks at a time. Both men had made other stops that day and Biden still had to go on to Council Bluffs.  

Stick with the tried and true seemed to be his message. He did not make as many promises as Sanders. I felt he was the most realistic of the Democratic candidates.

The only Republican to visit Sioux City was Vice President Mike Pence. 

Pence was standing in for President Trump who did not hold an event in Sioux City this time. Pence spoke before an Evangelical conference so his remarks were tailored to a different crowd than the Democratic candidates. His pro-Second Amendment and anti-abortion remarks received loud ovations. The crowd filled the event center and I suspect some had to be turned away. This was the first time I have heard Pence speak and I was impressed with his delivery. In the event President Trump is removed the Democrats might regret having to campaign against him.

The next event I attended was for Elizabeth Warren. But because she had to be in Washington for the Impeachment trial, she was not present. Three surrogates spoke on her behalf. There were less than 30 people there.

I left the Warren rally early so I could hear Pete Buttigieg speak in the lobby of the Orpheum theater. His crowd was probably no more than 200, similar to the number who turned out for Hillary Clinton when she spoke in the same place four years ago. 

Mayor Pete, as he is often called gave a good speech. Despite the fact he is the youngest  candidate, the audience was predominantly middle aged or older. His message was similar to the other candidates. 

The last event I attended was for Sen. Amy Klobuchar who spoke in a downtown bar on Saturday afternoon. I did not get there early enough to get a seat so I had to stand through her speech. Fortunately she started on time. The place was filled to capacity which was probably around 200. 

Unsurprisingly, there were more women than men in the audience and her pro-choice, pro-child care, pro-education message seemed to resonate with them. She was the only candidate who talked about agriculture and the problems we face in the Midwest. She did mention government subsidies for nursing home care — a problem many of us older folks will soon face.

Two candidates I did not see were Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer. Yang has promised to send every American age 18 and up a monthly check for $1000.

Steyer is perhaps the most annoying of the candidates and living proof of the old Beatles’ song: “Money Can’t Buy Me Love.” You cannot turn on the TV or watch YouTube without sitting through a Steyer commercial. But the people of Iowa don’t seem to be buying his message. 

Despite spending millions on advertising, Steyer ties with Yang for last place in a recent poll.

The nice thing about living in Iowa with its first-in-the-nation caucus is the opportunity it affords to see and hear the candidates in person. By the time the Nebraska primary comes around, the field will have narrowed considerably and the nomination already may be locked up.