Iowa Democrats’ Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tonight’s emcee, was introduced to the crowd at 7:40 p.m. and then a few moments later the candidates walked into the hall.  John Edwards was first.  His backers clanged their noise-makers and made a ruckus.  Bill Richardson walked out — and was seen on the screen — but there was no announcement over the loud speakers to indicate his entrance as there had been for Edwards.  Joe Biden came next, followed by Dodd.  Dodd’s supporters chanted the letters of his name in a rolling cadence which sounded like D-D-D-OHHHH-D-D-D.  Next, Hillary Clinton strolled in and her supporters waved their signs and cheered.  But it was the entrance of Barack Obama which drew the loudest and most organized response from the crowd.  Obama backers on one side of the hall chanted "Fired up" and then his backers on the other side yelled "Ready to go."  It appears clear Obama has the most supporters in the hall.  Obama aides claim to have at least 3000 here; Clinton aides put their tally at 2000.

The candidates and (most of) their spouses stood together on stage as the Pledge was said and the National Anthem was sung, followed by a rendition of God Bless America.  Both songs were sung by Simon Estes, the Iowa-born opera singer.  Then, United Methodist minister Barbara Dinnen took the mic, told a story and offered the invocation.    

Scott Brennan, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, was the first to have an extended time on the stage, which is set up in a sort of theater-in-the-round way.

Nancy Pelosi was next:  "All of the eyes of the world are on this dinner tonight because they know they’re going to hear from the next president of the United States."

Pelosi mentioned the war several minutes into her remarks.  "We must bring them home safely, honorably and soon….We can take this counry in a new direction…worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.  We go forward with the confidence that we are and have established ourselves as the party of real security for America, as the party of fiscal disciplines, as the party of fiarness to the middle class and as the party focused on the future for our children.  We can accomplish a brither future for our children only if we elect bigger majorities (of Democrats)…and by taking back the White House for the American people," Pelosi said.  "Are you ready for that victory?"

The music chosen to play as she was introduced and as she ended her remarks?  Tina Turner’s "Simply the Best."

Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, then Governor Chet Culver were given a chance to speak to the throng. 

Pelosi came back on stage to introduce each of the candidates.  She told the crowd she believed that God had blessed America with the crop of Democrats in the race for the White House, and intended to introduce each as "the next POTUS."

Edwards was first:  "In a little over a year from now, we will no longer have George Bush and Dick Cheney to kick around anymore…I watch the Republican candidates…and what I see is George Bush on steroids…This is not the Democratic Party.  This is not who we are and we need to make it clear….It is time for us as a party to stand up with some backbone and some strength…and not back down from this fight."

Edwards took on the record of the Bill Clinton era.  "We have a responsibility to change this system," Edwards said.  He criticized NAFTA.  "What we got were millions of dangerous Chinese toys….This system has to be changed." 

He mentioned his work as a courtroom lawyer, taking on "special interests." 

"And I beat them and I beat them and I beat them and I will beat them again," Edwards said, adding it’s time to start giving corporate interests "hell."

Edwards voice is cracking as he winds down.  "This is not just politics.  This is not just an election.  This is the great moral test of our generation," Edwards said.  "….You’re going to go to the Caucus on a cold January night…and my last message to you is….trust your heart."

Bill Richardson was next.  He took the stage at 9:10 p.m.  "Thank you to Iowa.  Thank you for making democracy look good and I am going to salute the most important people here….the activists, the grassroots Caucus-goers of Iowa," Richardson began.  Then, Richardson mentioned the crowd would be hearing a lot of speeches, and seemed to give a hat tip to the "last one" which would be Obama’s.

"George Bush gone forever — that is the American dream," Richardson said, to cheers.

Joe Biden was next, at 9:26 p.m.  "Hello folks, how are you?" Biden said when he reached the stage and then he turned to the Obama fans in the audience.  "Hello Iowa and hello Chicago."  A direct shot at the Illinois senator, suggesting his legions of supporters in the hall are not

"I should start with an apology to Rudy Giuliani," Biden continued.  (Biden, as you know, said the way RG makes a sentence is with a noun, a verb and 9/11.)  "…I was wrong.  He called me to tell me after Pat Robertson’s endorsement there’s an amen in every sentence, too.  Isn’t it amazing how these Republicans get converted?….God bless, ya.  It’s amazing."

Biden mostly traversed the stage with his left hand in one pocket as he held the microphone in the other.  At times, as Biden moved from one topic to another, he walked the stage with his head down, looking at the floor.

"You need more than 51 percent to solve these problems," Biden said, of course in reference to Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.

"I come here tonight not to seek your endorsement, but to tell you what’s on my mind," Biden said near the end of his remarks as he brings that hand out of the pocket and starts gesturing.   Biden then started talking about his favorite poet (Seamus Heaney), mentioned that apparently Heaney was Bill Clinton’s favorite poet, too, and then Biden was done, Nancy Pelosi was back on stage and recommending that very poet’s newest translation of Beowulf.   

Congressman Leonard Boswell auctioned off a donkey that had been signed by all the presidential candidates here.  Nancy Pelosi’s husband bought it for $1900.  Nancy Pelosi is now modeling a scarf she is wearing on stage, and it is being auctioned off to the highest bidder by Boswell.  (She’s apparently signed the scarf.)  It sold for $6000.

Chris Dodd was next to speak.  He started at 10:08 p.m. "Thank you and welcome to breakfast in Des Moines," Dodd joked at the start of his remarks.

"This is quite a gathering, I’ve got to tell you," Dodd said, mentioning a trip he and his family made to the Iowa State Fair  "Tonight, it’s candidates on a stick," Dodd said, a reference to the State Fair’s food tradition of food items offered on sticks, like the pork chop on a stick, the corn dog…the list is endless.

Dodd also took a shot at rivals who would keep troops in Iraq "until 2013."  Dodd concluded at just under 19 minutes — the longest speech of the night thus far. 

Senator Tom Harkin was given time to speak, and he told the crowd they owed it to the candidates to have the biggest turn-out ever in the ’08 Caucuses.  His speech ran about 12 minutes.

Hillary Clinton was next to speak, and her supporters began chanting as soon as Pelosi launched into the introduction.  She came into the hall at 10:46 p.m. 

"We are here tonight to make sure that the next president is a Democrat," Clinton said, as the crowd interrupted her periodically.  "After seven yars of George W. Bush…we as a nation cannot afford any other choice."

Clinton directly confronted Obama’s recent allegation that — paraphrasing — you aren’t ready to lead if you won’t say where you’re going.  "Now, there are some who say I don’t know where she stands….I stand with you and with your children and with everyone who needs a fighter in their corner for a better life," Clinton said.

"…I’m not interested in attacking my opponents.  I’m interested in attacking the problems of America and I believe we should be turning up the heat on the Republicans.  They deserve all the heat we can give them," Clinton said.

Next, Clinton started a litany, to which the crowd replied "turn up the heat."

"We’re going to turn up the heat on the Republicans and we’re going to turn the country around," Clinton said. "…I ask you to go and stand for me in the Caucus on January 3rd.  If you will stand for me for a night, I will stand and fight for you every day in this campaign and every day in the White House…Let’s do it, Iowa Democrats. Let’s make sure we turn up the heat and turn Ameria around."

Obama was the final speaker.  He entered the hall at 11:10 p.m. and began by thanking the hosts, then seemed to pause before he launched into his speech.

"I love you," someone in the crowd yelled into the brief silence. 

"I love you back," Obama replied.

"…The question you’re going to have to ask yourself when you caucus in January and you vote in November is what’s next for America?  We are in a defining moment in our history.  Our nation is at war.  The planet is in peril.  The dream…feels as if it’s slowly slipping away..and most of all we’ve lost faith."

"…If we are really serious about winning this election, Democrats, then we can’t live in fear of losing…That’s why I’m running to offer change that we can believe in…America, our moment is now.  Our moment is now. I don’t want to spend the next year or the next four years refighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s…I am not in this race to fulfill some long-held ambitions or because I believe it is somehow owed to me.  I never expected to be here.  I always knew this journey was improbable….I am running in this race beuase of what Dr. King called the fierce urgency of now….That hour is almost upon us…In this election, in this moment, let us reach for what we know is possible…an America that believes again."

Event over just about three hours from when it started.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Sounds like Obama has a lot more support from everything I’ve read. There maybe an upset in Iowa.

  2. Helen Grunewald says

    I was one of the lucky Obama supporters in the “nose bleed” balcony last night, sitting with many people who overlooked the hard seats, no supper and a long wait to hear Obama. There is so much positive energy in this crowd and supporting him makes me a better citizen.

  3. Hillary declines to speak to the issues – or at least provide real answers to real questions, while opting for the more PC Global Warming ones – even if she has to script them herself. How else could the Clinton staged media report Hillary’s remarkable comeback, after the Illegal Alien Driver’s License debacle.
    But like most Americans, I don’t want that duo back in the White House. With the Clintons, what is past is prologue. Hillary will come back swinging. Then there’s the incidence of Al Qaeda flight students, trained at the University of Bill Clinton. Why does this remain a non-issue? Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it:”
    Hillary: Positively Pandering, Definitely Duplicitous, and Ultimately Unelectable (Thanks to Jeff, in Arlington).