On Friday night was the Liberty and Justice Dinner in Iowa (previously known as the Jefferson and Jackson dinner). I was out of town that night, so I recorded it on C-SPAN. Even though I added an extra 30 minutes to the recording on the DVR, I still ended up recording only 7 of the 13 candidates who spoke. I had to go out and find the replay on YouTube in order to finish my watching.
The candidates who took part in the marathon series of 10 minute speeches were, in order: Pete Buttigieg; Joe Biden; Andrew Yang; Elizabeth Warren; Kamala Harris; Tom Steyer; Bernie Sanders; Michael Bennet; Julian Castro; Amy Klobuchar; Cory Booker; John Delaney; and Steve Bullock. Beto O’Rourke was schedule to speak, but dropped out of the race earlier that night. The other candidates who have not dropped out (as far as I know) but who did not speak were: Tulsi Gabbard; Wayne Meechem; Marianne Williamson; and Joe Sestak.
I figure since I rank everything else, I may as well do this as a ranking based on how I think their performances went. It was also fun to try and figure out their walkout songs, not all of which I knew at first listen. I’ll do a bonus ranking at the end of the walkout songs, just for fun.
- Kamala Harris – I was previously higher on Kamala earlier in the campaign. But she’s been very inconsistent in her debate performances and her polling has been pretty poor. I’m not even sure what tier I’d put her in at this point. But this was the best I’ve seen her. She had a clear message – Justice. For the People. She did some call and response stuff in the speech, but it was effective. If she can channel this Kamala during her time in Iowa, maybe she can make a comeback.
- Cory Booker – I just really like his speaking style. He does a great job of weaving stories into his speeches. He didn’t have a clear message that works in an election context, but he repeated some phrases that were good in the context of this speech – “I see you. I love you” and “we will rise.”
- Elizabeth Warren – I’m not hiding that I’m a Warren supporter. After Harris and Booker, there are 3 or 4 candidates who could be right about here in the rankings. Tie goes to the candidate number one on my overall rankings. Plus, she had the second largest crowd in the arena. Since crowd size is part of the game at this dinner, she got a lot of energy from her supporters. Her message is good. Obviously I like the message on the merits, but it’s also an effective political message that she can weave into any speech she gives – Dream Big, Fight Hard. A lot of the press coverage of the dinner noted that Warren and the moderates took subtle shots at one another. She did her fair share and I liked it. Also kudos to Warren for not spending time on Trump. Many of the other candidates took too much time focusing on the President. There’s time to do that in other places, but I think at this event, the more effective candidates focused on what their message is, rather than what they’re against. She did it well.
- Pete Buttigieg – Pete had the largest crowd and got to lead things off. There was a lot of energy and he did a good job surfing that wave. He spent a little too much time throwing zingers at Trump. You know what his message is generally. He’s more moderate. He’s looking for unity and to bring the country together. And he’s focused on what happens after Trump. But he really doesn’t have a good, one line message that he can hit home. Harris and Warren did this best tonight. Pete is on the rise, but he’s going to have to hone his message.
- Andrew Yang – I was watching this last night and made sure MadZee stayed up to watch with me, since he’s a Yang fan. He has done a good job of identifying a problem (but maybe not THE problem) about the economy. He has done a great job of getting his proposed fix for that problem (Freedom dividend) into the discussion. He just lacks a more bite sized message. His speech was good and it’s the best I’ve seen him. You really need to listen to him for more than the short snippets he gets in the debates in order to be able to fully follow his line of reasoning. It struck me, though, as I was watching last night that he’s really proposing a political revolution in the same vein as Bernie and Warren are. He talked about starting a wave that would crash down on Washington. It’s a variation on the theme of the progressives and I think I’m going to start including him in my mental grouping with Bernie and Warren from now on.
- Bernie Sanders – Bernie was the only candidate that read from prepared remarks and used a lectern. I had thought that was not allowed, but what do I know. Since he was reading his speech, Bernie did a good job of keeping on his overall message. He didn’t have supporters there (he set something up at a different location for his supporters and gave a donation to the Iowa Democratic Party instead), so the crowd reaction was just so-so. I note since I was paying attention to it for the other candidates that Bernie doesn’t have a one line message and that’s a deficit for me. The closest he comes is his line about political revolution or a political movement.
- Amy Klobuchar – The rest of the candidates from here on down didn’t do anything to stand out. They stuck to some variation of their stump speeches. And that’s what Klobuchar did. I liked how she put some focus on women getting elected. She also took some shots at the progressives. Her message or repeated line was that she was going to “win big.” She could really use to refine that.
- Joe Biden – I’ve got the same criticisms of Joe here that I’ve used in other posts. He rambled. His speech didn’t really have a coherent theme. He tried to use “restore the soul of America,” but he wasn’t consistent enough to make it work. A big emphasis for Joe was how Trump doesn’t want him as the nominee. And Joe will beat Trump “like a drum.” He started his speech off with a bunch of comments about Trump and then also ended with that. If he’s got a theme, it’s that he can beat Trump. We just need something more than that.
- John Delaney – I put Delaney here in the ranking because I think he was very consistent in his speech in focusing on rural America. He name-checked Iowa counties and towns. It was a solid speech. He was also one of the lower tier candidates who explicitly asked Iowans for help. Come caucus for me. Help me get my message out. None of the top tier candidates did that.
- Michael Bennet – His message was that he would tell the truth. He tried to draw some contrast with the progressives on policy. I liked that he focused on how his policies would help children, calling back to his time as a school superintendent.
- Julian Castro – I still really like Julian. His speech didn’t have a good theme that I could tell. He ended trying to get applause by listing progressive ideas that he would get done. Underwhelming.
- Tom Steyer – He focused on the fact that he was the first to really push impeachment. He’s done other things and got them done. He pushed impeachment and we’re doing that. I can get things done in Washington. Maybe his message is “truth and action?”
- Steve Bullock – On paper, Bullock should be a competitive candidate. He’s a governor and in a red state. He won in 2016 when Trump was on the ballot. But his speech was just awful. It’s fine that he’s focusing on the rural areas. Democrats forget about those areas and all that. But his call and response line was “give Trump the boot.” He tried to weave boots versus wingtip shoes into his speech a lot. It was just all forced and I think took away from what ought to be a good message. Too bad.
And now for my ranking of the walkout songs used by the candidates.
- Andrew Yang: Return of the Mack – Mark Morrison. It’s a cool tune and he sang and danced on his way out. Props.
- Cory Booker: Lovely Day – Bill Withers.
- Elizabeth Warren: 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton. I’m not sure this fits her campaign message so well, but I’ve always liked this song, so there you go.
- Pete Buttigieg: High Hopes – Panic! at the Disco. I know this song from riding around in the van playing Hits 1 on Sirius with a 10 year old girl. But I like Panic!, so deal with it.
- Amy Klobuchar: Bullpen – Dessa. I’ve never heard this song before, but I kinda dig it.
- John Delaney: The Rising – Bruce Springsteen. One of two songs from The Boss.
- Kamala Harris: Work That – Mary J. Blige
- Steve Bullock: Dirt on my Boots – Jon Pardi. Bro country tune, but it’s kinda catchy. Plus bonus points for follow through from Bullock’s message.
- Michael Bennet: Move on up – Curtis Mayfield
- Joe Biden: We take care of our own – Bruce Springsteen
- Julian Castro: Baila Esta Cumbia – Selena.
- Bernie Sanders: Power to the People – John Lennon. Lennon sounds a lot like Mick Jagger in this tune.
- Tom Steyer: Up Around the Bend – CCR. Just not a fan.