(Bloomberg Politics) — Hours before the first face-off of the Democratic presidential campaign, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stood in the far left corner of the White Star Ale House, a sleek bar in downtown Cedar Rapids, greeting a line of voters, some committed, others not so much.
“Well, thanks for coming just the same,” O’Malley, who has been outspoken in his support for stricter gun control, said to man in a Second Amendment T-shirt. “You can’t agree with everybody on everything.” The reception was better from Jean Schultz, a 71-year-old retired teacher. She told O’Malley she’d seen him on TV a few times, liked what he’d said, and that he seemed reasonable. “You make me feel like I should keep going,” he told her.
On Friday, all five of the declared Democratic presidential candidates descended on Cedar Rapids Convention Center for the first cattle call of their nominating contest, the Democratic Party Hall of Fame dinner. But even before the events, some of the candidates dominated much of downtown Cedar Rapids: During the afternoon, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, O’Malley, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held two rallies, a meet-and-greet, and a press conference, respectively, in different venues less than a mile of the convention center.
It was a chance for Iowa voters to compare the candidates side by side, but also for the presidential hopefuls to demonstrate the strength of their support in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, neither of whom held any events in Cedar Rapids the day of the dinner, may need to ask themselves if they’re taking the same basic steps to promote themselves as their competitors.
O’Malley, who is polling in the low single digits in Iowa, used his meet-and-greet to try and rectify that situation one voter at a time.
Sanders gave a substantive, if not professorial, press conference on the state of veterans affairs and his past work as chairman of that committee. But while Sanders’ it’s-about-the-issues-not-me approach plays well for the thousands of supporters who have filled stadiums to hear him, it doesn’t have the same effect on the media, or other Democrats. During the question-and-answer session after his veterans press conference, for example, he was asked almost exclusively about Clinton.
And some candidates are already thinking past the primary race. In a new pizza parlor right down the street from the White Star Ale House, Clinton—who is leading her Democratic challengers by an average of 34 points in the polls—offered encouragement and advice at two large events, a new pizza place and the basement of the Veterans Memorial building. They were “organizing with purpose, so I can campaign with purpose, we can win with purpose and govern with purpose,” she told about 130 volunteers and staffers at Need Pizza, a new business in downtown Cedar Rapids. “Impressed” by what they’ve accomplished so far, she talked about how important it was for them to be part of politics.
“I am thrilled you have chosen to come and work for me, but also that you’ve chosen to be part of this process,” Clinton told the audience of about 140 volunteers and staffers, waxing nostalgic about her own days as a campaign volunteer in 1972, when she worked for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. “It was just so much fun but it was also really meaningful,” Clinton said.