DES MOINES — Undaunted by intermittent afternoon showers, Democrats at Saturday’s Polk County Steak Fry viewed the drenching storms as the beginning of their blue wave in November that will sweep their candidates into state and national offices.
“It’s time to cut to the chase, folks. We need to win this election,” said Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell, the party’s 2018 gubernatorial candidate. He stood against the backdrop of gray skies and a giant American flag being buffeted by rain and easterly winds in exhorting the party faithful to get Iowans to the polls over the next five-plus weeks.
More than 1,000 Democrats were on hand to hear speeches from the party’s state-level and congressional candidates, as well as U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington.
Delaney, Merkley and Jayapal decried the unfolding Washington, D.C., drama swirling around the Senate confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that will continue to play out this week.
Merkley called last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh “a travesty and a sham.”
He had harsh words for committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. He said Grassley failed to ensure a fair process and did a “terrible job” by refusing to “pull in the people who have relevant testimony,” treating women “with utter disrespect” and blocking further investigation until Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake persuaded the Republican-led committee and President Donald Trump to agree to a limited FBI probe.
Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House, said she thinks Kavanaugh should remove himself from consideration or the president should withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination in light of allegations that have spurred “an incredibly difficult time for sexual assault survivors across the country.”
If that doesn’t happen, Merkley said he hoped the GOP-led Senate would reject the nominee.
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“Quite frankly, I want to see him defeated in a massive, bipartisan vote because he is unsuited to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court,” the Oregon senator said.
Delaney, the first Democrat to declare his 2020 presidential candidacy, said his decision to start early and visit all 99 Iowa counties appears to be paying off. His name recognition among Iowans in a recent poll stood at 79 percent, thanks in part of his aggressive TV ad campaign.
“That was our goal for this year,” Delaney said. “This wasn’t a year to focus on getting voters to commit yet.
“It’s early, and they know that, but it was a year getting voters to focus on who I am, what I stand for, and so when this race starts, we’re in the game. And I think that’s been total mission accomplished.”
However, he was quick to add that the attention for Democrats right now is “sealing the deal in November,” which will require hard work, being responsive to constituents and staying focused on issues that matter to people.
After that, he said, it will require a long-term effort to “become the party the American people are looking for — a party that can bring this terribly divided country together.”
The steak fry, an Iowa political tradition formerly hosted for decades by now-retired U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, was revived by Polk County Democrats in 2017 as a way to raise money and launch the fall organization.
Former Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson told the crowd that Polk County will be “ground zero” in Democrats’ efforts to elect statewide candidates and unseat 3rd District Republican U.S. Rep. David Young.
“It won’t happen unless it happens here,” she said.
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Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, one of the incumbent Democrats seeking re-election, told the party faithful, “You never win elections on potential; you win them on votes.”
For his part, Hubbell said he is focused on listening to Iowans’ concerns, preparing for three debates with Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, and offering an alternative vision to reverse Iowa’s privatized Medicaid “disaster,” adequately funding education, protecting the environment and restoring workers’ and women’s rights if he is elected governor Nov. 6.
“We’re at a tipping point in this state,” he said.
Hubbell’s running mate, state Sen. Rita Hart of Wheatland, told the gathering “the finish line is almost in sight” with 38 days until Election Day. “These next few weeks are by far the most important time of the election, and we cannot slow down, not one little bit. This is the time to get this thing done,” she said.
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