COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (DTN) -- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren stormed through the reddest part of Iowa over the weekend but discovered standing-room-only crowds on her three days of campaigning -- helped by abnormally mild January weather -- as she made a splash in visiting the first state of the 2020 Democratic nomination race.
The Iowa caucuses are less than 13 months away, and the primary calendar is more front-loaded than ever with California, Massachusetts and North Carolina pushing up their primary dates to a March 3 "Super Tuesday." By early March, a running list of nearly three dozen Democrats will be culled down to just a few possible contenders, and perhaps a single nominee.
The Democratic primary season is setting up to be the most wide-open race since at least 1992 with no single standard bearer, though former Vice President Joe Biden has yet to formally announce.
Most states resent the "oversized position" two small states, Iowa and New Hampshire, play in the party nomination process. California, the nation's most populated blue state, moved up its primary to an early date to play a bigger role with a chunk of Democratic delegates nearly six times larger than Iowa and New Hampshire combined. Still, the push for other states to get involved early also makes the case that it enhances the role of Iowa and New Hampshire in the nomination process.
"If there's not a decent interval after Iowa and New Hampshire for other primaries and caucuses, that magnifies the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire," said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines. "If you do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, there's not a lot of time for you to make many mistakes or reveal unexpected weaknesses. And if you do poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, it doesn't give you a lot of recovery time before the political obituary is written on your campaign."
The two early states also largely whittle out candidates who can't raise money and draw crowds and media attention in the months leading up to the Iowa caucuses. "The caucuses often don't determine who the nominee will be," Goldford said. "The caucuses often determine who the nominee will not be."
Warren, 69, is largely known as a liberal Massachusetts senator whose voice rose in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis as a consumer advocate who pushed for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She's also known for claiming Native American heritage, which has been attacked by her opponents to the point she even got a DNA test released last fall showing "strong evidence" of some Native American ancestry. Still, President Donald Trump has branded her as "Pocahontas," and last week, Trump posted on Twitter a mock Elizabeth Warren campaign logo showing "Warren 1/2020th."
Before a crowd of roughly 500 people Friday night in Council Bluffs, Iowa -- 200 of whom had to stand outside -- Warren sought to reintroduce herself as an Oklahoma native and daughter of working-class parents who barely scraped by financially. Warren talked about her father, a janitor, getting injured and being unable to work when she was in middle school, and her mother determined that "We will not lose this house" as she put on her best clothes to go get a minimum-wage job at Sears.
Warren then stressed that her mother's job at the time supported the family.
"And that minimum-wage job saved our home and it saved our family. And if you want to know who I am, that story is etched on my heart and always will be." Warren added, "Back when I was a kid, a minimum-wage job in America would support a family of three. Today a minimum-wage job in America will not keep a mama and a baby out of poverty. Think about that difference because for me, that's what this is all about."
Focusing on high costs of health care and college education, Warren also said Washington has increasingly tilted away from helping lower-income people rise up and instead helps the investor class. Washington now is dominated by successful corporate lobbyists, which Warren called "corruption, pure and simple." She said, "They work for the rich and the powerful and not the rest of us."
Warren didn't mention agriculture or ethanol across her initial campaign blitz, but she made a point of visiting rural areas such as Storm Lake, Iowa, trying to knock the notion Democrats ignore rural voters.
Explaining why she is in the run for the presidency, she said: "I'm in this fight because I am grateful. My daddy ended up as a janitor, and I had a chance to become a public-school teacher, a college professor and a United States senator. I am grateful to America down to my toes. I am grateful. But I'm also determined. I'm determined that we build an America where not just the children of rich people get the chance to build something, but where all our children get a chance to build a real future."
Iowa GOP tweeted of Warren that she "voted against tax cuts, supported @BernieSanders' $32 trillion Medicare for All plan, and has obstructed the President's agenda at every turn. Warren puts party politics over progress -- her far-left agenda would prove disastrous for Iowans."
Warren directly attacked the 2017 tax cuts in Council Bluffs as a "$2 trillion giveaway to corporations and billionaires."
The senator's fight is targeting President Trump's populism with her own progressive brand, but Warren did not mention Trump by name Friday night in Council Bluffs, and other reports noted a similar theme throughout the weekend.
Warren made a splash in western Iowa, the reddest part of the state. NBC reported roughly 3,000 people turned out for Warren's five events over the three days, "A testament to both her political celebrity and the eagerness among Iowa Democrats to get the race started against President Trump."
Students, nurses, teachers and retirees were among the crowd in Council Bluffs, which also drew Nebraskans who crossed the Missouri River for the event.
Jim Kennedy, a retired railroad employee in Iowa, said he didn't go to 2016 political rallies, but he wants to be more engaged this time around and see the different candidates. His take on Warren: "I like how she stands up to various factions and corporations. She speaks her mind."
Still, an array of Democrats are looking at running, with just a partial list that includes former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Julian Castro, former HUD Secretary and mayor of San Antonio, Texas, and billionaire Tom Steyer, who has events scheduled later this week in Iowa.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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