Democratic Candidates Discuss Platforms At Annual Iowa Dinner

This story was written by Dean Treftz, The Daily Iowan
Approximately 9,000 Democrats, often brightly colored to indicate their candidate of choice, poured into Iowa's Veterans Auditorium to see most of the Democratic presidential field at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Nov. 10.

Yearly, the dinner draws a respectable crowd. Last year's, featuring former President Bill Clinton, more than 3,500 attended.

With contested caucuses looming, however, the campaigns, especially those of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., used the event as a show of organization.

In the nosebleeds, sections of brightly colored supporters waged a crossfire of chants and counter-chants above the more formal diners.

A mass of red-clad Obama backers launched coordinated "fired-up" to a "ready to go" return from counterparts across the stadium. Rodham Clinton's fans beat inflatable noisemakers in matching new yellow shirts, while the Edwards faithful in white countered with light-up noisemakers.

Outside, a shanty town of jumbo yard signs gasped for real estate, and political ornaments dangled from trees and overlapping spotlights simultaneously declared the venue for Rodham Clinton and as "The Dodd House."

With 52 days until the Jan. 3, 2008, caucuses, campaigns have to do what they could to persuade still crystallizing Iowa voters.

"There isn't a [major] Democrat running I wouldn't mind," Kay Cvrk of Manning, Iowa, said before the dinner. "I can't remember a time before that was the case."

Cvrk, who has volunteered for both the Rodham Clinton and Obama campaigns, said she will likely chose between the two.

When the event finally started, the master of ceremonies, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduced each of the candidates as "the next president of the United States."

The hopefuls took 15 to 25 minutes each to speak on such issues as health care, Iraq, and especially President Bush. They also hinted toward the more aggressive nature their campaign has recently taken.

"Look what happened in the 1990s," Edwards said while speaking about undue lobbyist influence. The Democrats had a president in the White House, "but still, drug companies and insurance companies killed universal health care."

Rodham Clinton headed the panel that floated the universal health-care proposal while her husband was president.

The allusion wasn't the only subtle dig at Rodham Clinton. Obama warned against engaging in "triangulating and poll-driven politics because we're worried what Rudy [Giuliani] or Mitt [Romney] might say about us."

Both Edwards and Obama have increased their criticisms of Rodham Clinton lately, most notably in an Oct. 30 debate in Philadelphia. Nationally, they distantly trail the former first lady in the polls, but in Iowa, the race is much tighter.

Rodham Clinton emphasized her experience and focused her attention on Bush and Republicans, calling his tenure "seven years of the few, by the few, for the few."

Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd assailed the three front-runners' refusal to promise that U.S. forces would not be in Iraq by the end of their first term.

"Any Democrat who doesn't stand up and say, 'We're going to be out of Iraq by 2013,' I wonder what they're standing for," the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee chairman said.

Both New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., touted their experience and understanding of nuance in dealing with foreign affairs -- Biden as a longtime member and the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Richardson as, among other things, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

With the event running long -- the ending confetti treamed down at 11:30 p.m. -- some upper-deck supporters filtered out after their candidate had spoken. But Rodham Clinton and Obama were the last to talk, keeping the stadium loud, and most of those with spots at tables below stuck around.

David and Judy Risvold of Des Moines echoed Cvrk's satisfaction with the candidates but are supporting Edwards because of his emphasis on unions.

They said they liked that all the candidates touched on health care. Their health insurance has increased sixfold since he retired, David Risvold said.

Judy Risvold, who delayed her retirement to cover bills, said she doesn't know what, "but something has to be done."
© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE