Three U.S. senators briefly freed from President Trump’s impeachment trial dashed across snow-covered Iowa in one of their last bursts of campaigning before the contest that kicks off what remains a wide-open race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
As soon as the trial adjourned Saturday, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar took off for Iowa and a whirl of rallies and town halls before rushing back to Washington to resume service as jurors.
“I literally turn into a pumpkin Monday morning,” Klobuchar told a crowd packed into a sports bar in Muscatine.
Michael Bennet of Colorado, the fourth Democratic senator still in the race, stumped instead in New Hampshire, which holds its primary Feb. 11.
The senators’ untimely lockdown in the Capitol is a boon to their leading rivals. Former Vice President Joe Biden has more than a dozen Iowa events scheduled before the senators return next weekend — and so does Pete Buttigieg, the other Democrat in the top tier of the field.
The volatility of the race was underscored by new polls showing either Sanders or Biden in the lead in Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses, with Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar each within striking distance. Andrew Yang, whose poll ratings in Iowa were well behind the others’, hit 10 stops over the weekend, continuing a 17-day bus tour of the state.
On Saturday, Warren claimed the Des Moines Register’s prized endorsement and Biden got the nod from the Sioux City Journal. The Quad-City Times had gone with Klobuchar.
Wary of a backlash from voters eager to oust Trump, Democrats for the most part avoided direct attacks on one another. The exception was Sanders. The Vermont senator faulted Biden on Sunday for saying “not a single solitary scientist” thinks the U.S. can achieve Sanders’ goal of zero-carbon emissions for transportation and electricity by 2030.
“Well, Joe, you’re wrong,” Sanders told a crowd in Perry. “Many leading scientists agree with our plan, and in a few days we’re going to have a long list of scientists who agree with our plan.”
Warren, vying with Sanders for the party’s most progressive voters, was more subtle in suggesting some of her opponents’ plans lacked boldness.
“This is not a time for small ideas,” she told a few hundred Iowans in a Davenport school gymnasium on Sunday. “This is not a time for campaigns that look back. This is not a time for us to run vague campaigns that nibble around the edges of the real problems that we face.”
Days after saying Sanders told her privately that Americans would not elect a woman president (a statement he denies making), Warren played up the potential of her historic breakthrough. Warren, who jogs onto the stage at her events to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” recalled her own 2012 defeat of Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
“Women win,” she said to a burst of applause.
She wasn’t the only candidate making a pitch about electability.
Klobuchar, who is competing with Biden and Buttigieg for the support of moderates, reminded the crowd in Muscatine on Saturday that many Iowa counties that backed Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012 went on to support Trump in 2016.
“We’re going to have to bring those people in,” said the Minnesota senator, who frequently casts herself as a pragmatic Midwesterner who can appeal to those voters.
Buttigieg, who has made a point of campaigning in Iowa counties that flipped from Obama to Trump, made a similar pitch in Fort Dodge on Saturday. He explained to hundreds of people packed into a barn why he’d decided to do a televised town hall on conservative Fox News: “We shouldn’t be surprised if viewers of that network don’t understand our message if they’ve literally never heard it. So I’m going to be on that network talking about these issues and reaching voters where they are.”
Buttigieg’s campaign, in a Saturday email soliciting donations, said Sanders was “surging in the polls” but questioned his capacity to beat Trump.
“If things stay steady until the Iowa Caucuses in just nine days, Bernie Sanders could be the nominee of our party,” it said. “But we need a candidate who can beat Donald Trump in November — and Pete is the candidate who is best positioned to do that.”
At a rally in Ames on Saturday night, Sanders argued that what Democrats will require to defeat Trump — and what he could ensure — is the strongest voter turnout in U.S. history. He also took swipes at rivals’ fundraising.
“You can’t generate excitement when you’re busy going to New York raising large sums of money from billionaires and millionaires,” he said. “People want change.”
Sanders drew some of the weekend’s biggest crowds. Joining him in Ames were filmmaker Michael Moore, the band Portugal. The Man, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who was greeted like a rock star.
On Sunday in Des Moines, the mood at a Biden event darkened when news broke that basketball superstar Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with his teenage daughter. Biden recalled the death of his wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash.
“It makes you realize that you’ve got to make every day count — every single day count,” Biden said.
Finnegan reported from Muscatine and Davenport; Mehta from Fort Dodge, Ames and Des Moines.