Iowa moments relatively sparse in only Hawkeye State debate

By: - January 14, 2020 10:27 pm

Supporters of Amy Klobuchar, left, and of Elizabeth Warren, top right, rally on Jan. 14, 2020, before the Democratic presidential debate at Drake University, where a display of campaign posters mark candidate attention to the Des Moines campus. (Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Sedrel)

There were only a few genuine Iowa moments in the Democratic presidential debate, even though it was broadcast from Des Moines less than three weeks from the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.

Those moments mostly came during a round of questions on trade, raised by moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief political reporter for The Des Moines Register.  The newspaper co-sponsored the debate with CNN.

Pfannenstiel opened the round by asking Sen. Bernie Sanders why he wouldn’t vote for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, even though he’s admitted it makes “modest improvements” for farmers who are “devastated here in Iowa.”

Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren disagreed on the issue.  Sanders argued that he would not vote for any trade agreement that lacked strong provisions addressing climate change.  Warren, however, said she supports USMCA even though she opposed other recent trade agreements. “But we have farmers here in Iowa who are hurting,” she said. “And they are hurting because of Donald Trump’s initiated trade wars.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar also brought the issue back to Iowa. “Thank you for bringing up Iowa, Brianne, because that’s where we are,” she said.

Klobuchar recalled an encounter in Crawfordsville, Iowa, where she visited a biodiesel plant that had shut down in the wake of Trump administration policies that have slowed production of the corn-based fuel.  She said she met a worker who brought out a coat rack of uniforms. “And he said, ‘These are my friends. They don’t work here anymore.’ … And that guy started to cry.”

Former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg also brought up an Iowa encounter in reference to climate change. He said he met a “kid” at one of his campaign events in Winterset, Iowa. He “raised his hand and he pointed out that he expects to be here in his 90s, in the year 2100.  He will sit in judgment over what we do,” Buttigieg said.

There were a few other Iowa-centric moments, including:

  • A question posed by a viewer raised the fact that Des Moines is an insurance town and asked what would happen to those workers under Sanders’ Medicare for All plan. Sanders responded that he would include money for worker assistance and retraining, but he insisted Medicare for All would be cheaper than the status quo.
  • Candidates pledged to help make child care more accessible and affordable in response to a viewer question from a women who wrote that she had to leave a job she loved because she couldn’t afford child care. Former Vice President Joe Biden talked about being a single parent after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident and having to commute 250 miles a day because he couldn’t afford child care.
  • Klobuchar told an anecdote about a Primghar, Iowa, man named Joe Welch who stood up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during a 1954 hearing into “anti-American activities.” He asked McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Klobuchar was making a point about the need to stand up to President Trump through the impeachment process.
  • Candidates spoke about the need to curb climate change in the context of the devastating flooding that has plagued rural Iowa. “Farmers will be a huge part of the solution,” Buttigieg said. Candidate Tom Steyer drew a smattering of applause from the mostly-silent audience for saying he’d declare a state of emergency on climate change on his first day as president.
  • Buttigieg touted endorsements from African-American elected officials in Iowa in response to a question suggesting he lacks support from voters of color.

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