After some upheaval last week, the race for the Democratic nomination for President has mostly shaken down to a two-person contest between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. And in Des Moines on Saturday, their supporters were among the thousands of activists gathered for the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner.
College student Katya Wendt came down from Minnesota with the group Saint Olaf for Bernie Sanders. She has her talking points down.
“I’m supporting Bernie Sanders because I want a free education, lower tuition,” Wendt says. “I think it’s time to get rid of corporate greed. And I think Bernie supports the way that politics should be working. He doesn’t get money from billionaires. He doesn’t have super PACs.”
Around downtown Des Moines it was hard to judge whether Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders was winning the contest for the most t-shirts or yard signs. Retired police officer and military veteran Gordon Reed drove in from Red Oak. He hit on some additional themes in support of Sanders, including his vote against the Iraq war.
“He has been consistent in his views," Reed says. “And also I’m a Vietnam Veteran. I know what war does."
Once inside Hy-Vee Hall, grassroots activists from both campaigns shouted and cheered, though Sanders supporters were the rowdier bunch.
Some party heavyweights were there backing Clinton. Danny Homan is president of the state’s largest public employees union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“This woman has stood for women, for kids, for working men and women her entire career,” Homan says. “I have the utmost respect for her. And as witnessed this past week she is ready to be the President of the United States.”
Homan cites Clinton’s 11-hour appearance before the congressional committee investigating the Benghazi attacks.
“She showed she has the guts to stand up to the Republican questions,” Homan says. “She kept her cool.”
Some party faithful chose Saturday to announce their endorsement. State representative Scott Ourth of Ackworth was waiting to see how the field shaped up.
“I watched them all carefully,” Ourth says, “but I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton tonight because I believe she is the best qualified to be the President of the United States. I think she has a lifetime of experience.”
But Ourth says he wasn’t specifically waiting to see whether vice-president Joe Biden entered the race.
Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire says she’s not surprised by the vigorous contest that’s underway.
“Certainly when we started people did not think we’d be here,” McGuire says. “I predicted a very competitive caucus. So I was right there,” McGuire adds with a laugh.
McGuire says Clinton will have to continue to reach out to voters to win. She says Sanders challenge will be sustaining the enthusiasm long term.
Meanwhile some voters are glad the field has narrowed.
“I think it’s nice that we have the candidates we’re going to have so we can move on,” says Diana Camp, an undecided voter from Indianola.
“I love how Bernie attracts the young people, and how he’s consistent in his views,” Camp says. “But I think Hillary in the last several weeks in particular has hit her stride. It would be a marvelous thing to have the first woman president.”
Camp adds she will probably consider electability when she casts her vote, and if she does she probably will vote for Clinton. That leaves activists speculating about just how close the race will be long haul. They wonder if Clinton and Sanders will be duking it out well into the nomination season the way Clinton and Obama did eight years ago.