On Eve of The Iowa Caucuses, Democrats Play to Voter Nostalgia and Fatigue
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Democratic presidential candidates hopscotched across the state Sunday in their final day of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses, as jittery anticipation of the start of voting mixed with a bittersweet sense of the long buildup coming to an end.
The closing burst of politicking across Iowa marked the approaching finale of what has been an unusually protracted campaign season here. Iowans, who have been courted and cajoled by Democratic presidential hopefuls for more than a year, reported a mix of melancholy and relief that it all would soon come to an end.
Sunday’s crescendo lacked some of its anticipated punch, as candidates’ plans deferred to other major news events — the Super Bowl, the pending continuation of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate — that have competed for voters’ attention.
Rallying on an unseasonably warm February day in high school gymnasiums and on college campuses, the contenders tailored their pitches to acknowledge the varied emotions of the big day finally arriving.
Elizabeth Warren struck a nostalgic note as she addressed 350 supporters in a packed college hall in Indianola, just south of Des Moines, as several hundred more milled outside after being shut out by the fire marshal.
“A little over a year ago, I got in this race right here in Iowa, and in that time we’ve done town halls, taken thousands of unfiltered questions, lots of selfies,” the Massachusetts senator said.
She extolled the state’s vetting prowess, telling the crowd she appreciated their hard questions.
“You have made me a better candidate and you will make me a better president,” she said. “Thank you, Iowa.”
Nick Mahostadt, wearing a liberty green T-shirt identifying him as a Warren campaign precinct captain, said thinking beyond Feb. 3 made him feel a bit wistful.
He and his 11-year-old daughter, Lydia, have been volunteering at the campaign’s Indianola field office two to three times per week. Lydia, a sixth-grader, would make postcards for undecided voters and hand out literature.
“I know most people are tired of it, but we put a lot of time and energy into this, and so for it to kind of be nearing the end … I don’t know what we’re going to do after Monday, we won’t have an office to go to,” said Mahostadt, a 39-year-old project manager.
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., seemed to sense the caucus fatigue in Coralville, in the eastern part of the state, near the University of Iowa campus, but he tried to roll that feeling into a metaphor of exhaustion with the state of the nation’s politics.
He tried to reassure the audience, which filled a middle school gymnasium, that it’ll all be worthwhile in the end if Trump is defeated in November.
“I know it can be discouraging to watch what’s happening in Washington right now,” he said. “I live and breathe politics, and I feel exhausted by this process. And it creates the temptation to walk away, to switch it off.
“But this is the moment that we gotta do the exact opposite, because the good news in all of this is no matter what they do on the Senate floor, the Senate is the jury today, but we are the jury tomorrow.”
Coralville voter Adam Schwaje, a 40-year-old medical resident at a local hospital, says that while he’s excited about participating in the caucuses for the first time Monday, the campaign onslaught has been draining.
“I can’t even explain how many phone calls and text messages I’ve gotten,” he said as he and his 4-year-old daughter, Clara, left the Buttigieg event Sunday morning. “My phone just blows up. It’s ridiculous.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders closed out his Iowa campaign trying to stoke a sense of urgency among his committed fans, predicting that if the caucuses see record turnout Monday, his insurgent candidacy would pull off a win.
“We cannot simply complain about the status quo,” Sanders said to scores of volunteers at a campaign office in Cedar Rapids, exhorting them to bring their friends, families and co-workers to the Monday caucuses.
“Now is the time to end the complaining. Now is the time for action, and the action is tomorrow night.”
Pearce reported from Cedar Rapids and Beason from Coralville. Times staff writers Seema Mehta in Indianola and Melanie Mason in Des Moines contributed to this report.
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