All of the Democratic presidential hopefuls -- with the exception of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska -- gathered Saturday night in Des Moines, Iowa in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium to celebrate themselves, the Iowa Democratic Party, and to get in a few words about why each one of them should be the next standing president of the United States.
Amid the usual wash of candidate slogans, talk of "regaining the moral high ground" and piles of political paraphernalia, the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner is one of the largest parties that the Democrats will put on this year.
The gala boasted a veritable who's who in both the National Democratic Party, including former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, N.M. Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. The Iowa Democratic Party was in the house as well, including many state senators, and Gov. Chet Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge. Emcee for the night was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan gave introductions to all speakers.
"All the eyes of the world are on this dinner tonight," Pelosi said in opening remarks, "because they know they are going to hear the next president of the United States."
Throughout the night, Pelosi ran down the list of recent Democratic initiatives and bills that had been pushed through in the slim margin of majority that the Democrats hold in Congress, including the recently overturned veto of a water projects management bill that holds $215 billion in labor, health, education and veterans programs. Also prevalent was the 53 days until the Iowa caucuses, which start the narrowing of the field of candidates.
"You all will have a great influence on this race," Dodd said.
Candidates were required to sit through all speeches, and while most of these held similar themes, variations on domestic policy could be discerned, especially on the issue of health care. As in the case of Edwards, who said that "Washington is awash in with corporate money," decrying the usual corrupt politicians who killed universal health care in the early '90s.
"Look at what happened in the 1990s, when we had a Democratic president, a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and drug companies and insurance companies killed universal health care in the United States of America," he said to cheers of "Go John Go."
Richardson spoke about championing and restoring the Constitution, as a message to the Ron Paul supporters inside and outside the auditorium. He also condemned those who condone torture, such as former attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
"America will not stand for torture in this country," he said.
Dodd spoke to the group holding a "2013?" sign, a clear symbol of those in the DNC who want to remove troops in that time frame.
"I will bring the troops home by 2009, and not in 2013," Dodd said.
Biden spoke of foreign policy and made attacks on the Republican Party, vilifying Republicans who "get converted" just because they are behind in the polls. He used Pat Robertson's recent endorsement of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as an example. Biden's main talking point was the "very slim margin of error" that the next president will have.
"The next president will be left no margin of error. None. We have squandered too much blood and treasure," he said.
Expectation in the room was raised as the night wore on, as Clinton and Obama were the last two to speak. The running order, Pelosi said, was "randomly picked before I got into town."
Eruptions of the sound of drumming on galon pails, yellow noisemakers, tiny cowbells and mixed party slogans greeted each of the candidate's speeches. Most notably during Clinton's 15 minutes, where she engaged in a round of call and response with her supporters, who were situated somewhere between the donors' tables and the general admission seats higher in the auditorium.
"So what are we going to do to the Republicans who have turned the Chinese into our bankers?" she said.
"Turn up the heat," said the audience, holding placards with the same slogan written on them.
Obama supporters were also extremely vocal, waving glow sticks and shouting "fired up, ready to go!" all night. Obama's speech was a declaration of confidence in his ability to run a successful campaign.
"I am in this race to tell those corporate lobbyists that their day is over," he said. "That's why I am running. I am running for the people who still hunger for opportunity in this country."
© 2007 Iowa State Daily via U-WIRE