On the first day of the Iowa State Fair, I found myself packed in the middle of a crowd waiting for former Vice President Joe Biden to speak. The sky was filled with paper-thin clouds that failed to curtail the heat of the sun that hung above us. Collectively, the masses smelled worse than my high school locker room.
Presidential politics looks pretty on TV. In reality, it smells really bad.
To my left was Shannon Roth, an Iowa native turned Virginia high school government teacher, and her husband. Roth, 34, who has attended the state fair every year since she was born, said she planned to listen to all two dozen presidential candidates scheduled to speak. It was important for her to take this first-hand knowledge back to her classroom, she said.
To my right was a Minnesota Democrat who regretted her vote for President Trump in 2016.
“Trump said he would do a lot of things. He’s not doing what he said. He’s an embarrassment,” said Fay Pohlman, 55. “It would have been nice to see what he could have done.”
And all around me were Iowans debating which Democrat would get their vote and why.
Iowa Democrats, who will be the first to cast a vote in the nominating contest in February, play an outsized role in deciding who will take on Trump. And the fair and the satellite events – 134 in total, according to the Des Moines Register – mark a new phase in the campaign.
Here’s a little more about what I learned during my four days in Iowa.
There is interest in Colorado’s remaining candidate. But there’s no evidence of enthusiasm.
Let’s get this out of the way: A lot of folks like Michael Bennet. There are those who really like him. However, very few voters are falling in love with him the way they are with Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.
One of the most important lines of inquiry I explored while I was in Iowa was exactly how “open” the race was. Iowa voters historically break late for a candidate and regularly provide an upset – Bernie Sanders effectively tying with Hillary Clinton, Obama winning outright in 2008.
However, these sorts of upsets just don’t happen. It takes money, message and incredible organization to make this happen. To be competitive in Iowa, experts say, a candidate at least needs an army of about 300 volunteers – three in each county – to pull off an effective caucus strategy.
Bennet doesn’t have that sort of grassroots network.
Yes, Biden is leading in the polls, but Warren is on fire.
There’s no doubt that Biden is among the most popular Democratic candidates in Iowa – and the nation. However, Warren has risen in the polls, and most of the voters I spoke with listed her among their top choices. She received one of the loudest ovations at the Wing Ding dinner, an annual fundraiser in northern Iowa, despite giving a ho-hum speech. And according to multiple media reports, she attracted the largest crowd at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox at the state fair.
Warren has reportedly built the largest field team in Iowa, which will serve her well as she continues to grow her base of support.
Democrats want the field to winnow – but not until they’ve met every candidate.
Talk about mixed messages: Democrats are exhausted by the large field of candidates. And yet, in the next breath, they told me they don’t want (insert candidate name here) to drop out because they haven’t met them yet.
Whether Iowans like it or not, a chop is coming thanks to the Democratic National Committee’s debate rules. Whether candidates hold on and scramble to make the stage is yet to be seen.
The primary is not a “battle for the soul” of the Democratic Party. It’s about beating Donald Trump.
The national media likes to talk about the primary as a knock-out fight between moderate and liberal Democrats. The narrative isn’t totally wrong, given the personalities leading the field. And yet, when I asked voters how they felt about this framing, they recoiled. As I wrote on Twitter: “Democrats don’t care about the soul of the party. They care about health care, gun control and climate change. They want a president they can respect and who will respect the office. They want a healer.”
Welcome to The Spot, The Denver Post’s weekly political newsletter. I’m Nic Garcia, a political reporter at The Post. Keep the conversation going by joining our Facebook group today! Forward this newsletter to your colleagues and encourage them to subscribe. And please support the journalism that matters to you and become a Denver Post subscriber here. Send tips, comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
8 days until the Legislative Barbecue at the Colorado State Fair; 22 days until the Polis recall petitions are due; 146 days until the next legislative session
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BREAKING: Former Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his presidential bid moments ago. Will he run for Senate?
Denver International Airport has fired the partnership that was renovating the terminal and scheduled to operate airport concessions for three decades afterward. The decision came after Great Hall Partners said it would need an extra $288 million to finish the construction, which had been budgeted at $650 million.
We spent a day on the campaign trail with Michael Bennet. Here’s what we saw.
Just how tough are Colorado’s new oil and gas rules going to get?
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, left, talks with Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, during testimony on HB1177 at the Capitol on March 28, 2019, in Denver. Garcia, a Democrat, voted no on the bill.
Garcia recall effort imminent • By Anna Staver
With the special session in our rearview mirrors, the next big thing we’re waiting on at the Colorado Capitol is when the people who want to recall Senate President Leroy Garcia will file their paperwork.
Opponents of the Pueblo Democrat say the plan is to file with the Secretary of State’s Office by early next week at the latest and have petitions circulating by next Friday, which marks the start of the state fair in Pueblo.
“So many people are unhappy with the job he’s doing,” said Susan Carr, the spokesperson for the recall effort. “We have just as many Democrats as we do Republicans.”
People in Pueblo, Carr added, didn’t like Garcia’s vote on an oil and gas bill that impacted the steel mill that manufactures pipelines for drilling, his support of the national popular vote compact and the money he cost the state by hiring an attorney to defend his decision to have multiple computers read a bill simultaneously.
Carr’s working with the same people who successfully ousted former Sen. Angela Giron, a Pueblo Democrat, in 2013 over her votes on a series of gun control bills.
Garcia won the seat in 2014, and he was re-elected in 2018 with 74% of the vote.
Carr thinks lightning is going to strike twice in Pueblo.
“They were successful once,” she said. “They can be successful again.”
More Colorado political news
Attack ads launched in 2020 Senate race • By Justin Wingerter
There was plenty of non-Hickenlooper news in the U.S. Senate race this week.
John Walsh unveiled a guns and public safety plan Tuesday. Some policies of note: a national ban on gun magazines with more than 15 rounds; raising the minimum age for buying assault rifles to 25; and a national red-flag law.
“In the Gabby Giffords shooting…(the shooter) had to reload after 15 shots and he got tackled. That’s why this would save lives,” Walsh told a crowd Saturday at a Greek restaurant in Aurora, referring to his proposed magazine limit.
Speaking of Giffords, she’ll be in Aurora on Aug. 26 with U.S. Rep. Jason Crow to continue her nationwide push for expanded background checks. Last week, her group launched ads calling out Sen. Cory Gardner on the issue.
Gardner launched an ad of his own on social media this week. Audio of Gardner’s recent speech to the Western Conservative Summit plays over beautiful views of Colorado. He warns of “socialism on full display” within the Democratic Party between praise for America and the West.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee posted a billboard in southeast Denver targeting Stephany Rose Spaulding with the words “too liberal for Colorado” and Spaulding’s face next to those of U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
It appears to be part of an NRSC strategy to bring attention to Democrats’ most liberal Senate candidates. Spaulding quickly used the billboard to her advantage, sharing it on social media and raising campaign cash off it. State Rep. Janet Buckner, an Aurora Democrat, said Republicans “are running scared, otherwise they wouldn’t spend this much money on a billboard.”
Action PAC, recently founded by social justice activist Shaun King, endorsed Andrew Romanoff on Tuesday. The PAC hopes to raise and spend $5 million to help several liberal Democrats win Senate races in 2020, including Romanoff, who has sworn off PAC donations but can still benefit from a PAC’s spending and endorsement. The Romanoff campaign says it has seen a big boost in social media followers since the Action PAC announcement.
More federal political news:
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Mile High Politics
The next development debate • By Andy Kenney
Election season is long over, but there’s a brand new set of yard signs in East Denver. “No upzoning and highrises,” they declare.
A new group called Denver East Area Neighborhoods First already has sold about 200 of the signs and launched a website, according to member Lisa Weber Hewitt, and recent meetings have grown intense.
It’s a response to the city’s long-term planning proposals for neighborhoods along East Colfax Avenue, making it the first development controversy in a citywide process that will take years.
The East Area Plan wouldn’t actually allow any new types of development, but it would set the stage for future rezonings and other changes if approved. As we reported previously, the draft suggests that the Denver City Council raise height limits to five and eight floors at intersections near planned bus-rapid transit spots on Colfax, assuming the developers include affordable housing. It also suggests allowing “missing middle” housing, such as duplexes, on certain blocks.
“Residents are in full support of affordable housing but not at the expense of high rises and changing the landscape of the entire neighborhood,” Weber Hewitt wrote in an email. And one of the area’s representatives, newly elected Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, has said she’s skeptical about the denser development concepts, too. She’s also worried about delays to the city’s bus-rapid transit plans for Colfax.
Looks like we’ve found Denver’s next debate stage for YIMBYs, NIMBYs and everyone in between.
More Denver political news