“What we’re going to do is pick up the remote and change the channel,” Buttigeig, the youngest presidential candidate, proclaimed to sustained cheers.
Once a low-key fundraiser that served up chicken wings and raised money for Democratic candidates and nearby county parties, the event has grown in stature in the state that kicks off presidential primary voting.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of neighbouring Minnesota poked fun at the parade of candidates taking the stage one after another and forcing everyone to keep their speeches short: “Last time I had 20 minutes, and this time I have 20 candidates.”
Some who ran longer than their allotted five minutes – including the evening’s final speaker, former Vice President Joe Biden – were subjected to musical cues trying to play them offstage, just like the Academy Awards.
The event coincides with the state fair in Des Moines, and most Democratic White House hopefuls have been crisscrossing the state for days. California Senator Kamala Harris is on a bus tour, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is travelling via RV and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has a Winnebago. Many of Friday’s speeches featured cracking voices after long stretches of campaigning.
Biden, who has consistently led in the polls, offered a long list of Trump’s actions that he said had stirred up racial division before declaring: “Let’s call this what it is. This is white nationalism, this is white supremacy.”
The candidates overlapped with messages of how Trump had spread hate and fear nationwide. But a few also offered stern warnings that topping the president in 2020 will be tough.
Former Representative Beto O’Rourke cancelled his Iowa visit to remain in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, where 22 people died. His campaign will stay suspended through the weekend and perhaps beyond.
“We’ve been asked a couple of times by folks when we’re gonna get back on the campaign trail. We will at some point,” O’Rourke said in a Facebook video from his home Friday. “We really want to be here right now for El Paso, for the families.”
O’Rourke also appeared in a sombre video during Friday’s event.
“I’m sad that I can’t be with you in person,” he said. “I hope to see you in the very near future.”