TH Caucus coverageAfter two nights, two venues and 20 candidates, the Dubuque County Democrats made it through the first debates between this historic primary field for the presidential election of 2020.

The local Democrats held public watch parties for each night of the two-part debate series, each of which drew dozens of viewers.

Wednesday evening, the group congregated at Junction 21 in Peosta, where — over hand-battered onion rings and their favorite brews — they watched the first crop of contenders pitch their bids for the Oval Office.

This would turn out to be the milder of the two evenings, with the candidates tossing out policy positions they think might differentiate them in a historically crowded primary field.

But, the engaged group at Junction 21 listened closely — “Oh!”-ing as Julian Castro called former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to task for not immediately joining his call to make illegal border crossings civil infractions rather than criminal, and laughing as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar slid in last-second quips and zingers.

In the first one-third of the two-hour debate, NBC moderators secured Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s standing as the night’s front runner by holding up her policies and plans for review by other candidates.

That seemed fine to staffers and volunteers of Warren’s new Dubuque office who attended. They stood in a group between the venue’s two rooms clapping and beaming as Warren confidently laid out and defended her vision for the country.

Other than former Maryland Rep. John Delaney — the first candidate to have an office in Dubuque — and a few others, the field Wednesday was solidly behind Medicare for all or a similar government-run medical insurance system. The holdouts agreed with an expanded government program but wanted to maintain private insurance for those who are happy with their plans.

Nancy Wallace attended Wednesday’s event and lined up closer to the latter end of the spectrum. She is a former State Farm Insurance representative. She has both Medicare and Medicare Supplement, and is covered in part by the plan of her husband, Howard Wallace.

“I just don’t know if it’s wise to put everyone in the country on Medicare alone,” she said. “I think choice is good.”

The crowd at Wednesday’s debate watch was an even split between campaign workers and regular county Democrats. Warren’s posse was the most numerous, but was nearly matched by the other campaigns.

A few Booker 2020 T-shirts dotted the crowd, wearers clapping and nodding at New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s impassioned orations. O’Rourke’s camp had one or two workers in attendance resolute in their support of the Texas sensation from the 2018 election season.

A few of Warren’s Dubuque front followed the party to Denny’s Lux Club Thursday for the second night of debates, where they met local representatives of three other campaigns — former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Gov. Steve Bullock (who did not qualify for the debates).

Thursday night, the crowd immersed itself in the more heated tone. Attendees alternated between wide-eyed silence and respectful clapping around the stirring exchange between Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

They crooked mouths in curious consideration at some of Marianne Williamson’s comments before mixing a cocktail of laughter and shocked applause at her promise to “harness love” rather than policy to beat President Donald Trump in 2020. All in all, Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drew the biggest reactions of the night.

Dubuque County Democrats Chairman Steve Drahozal said he appreciated hearing debate from people with “actual thoughts.”

“They aren’t having to debate if health care is a fundamental right,” he said. “They’re debating how we get there. They aren’t debating if women deserve to be treated like humans. They’re talking about how their care would look. I am really enjoying this disagreement by degrees that is happening tonight.”

Ahead of the debates, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann wrote the policies of the entire field off as socialist nonsense, saying, “In some ways our job is easy.” He attacked the Green New Deal and Medicare for all.

“It will be fun to see them battle over who can spend more that they don’t have,” he said during a press conference call.

Kauffman accused Democratic candidates of taking their cues from freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rather than from God.

Drahozal said that the reason for Thursday’s watch party was a step toward avoiding the divide Democrats built between themselves after the 2016 primary.

Local staffers from various candidates’ campaigns also held watch parties across the city.

Ernst, Grassley challenge Department of Education reportU.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, both Republicans from Iowa, continued their pressure this week on the U.S. Department of Education to fix “systemic problems” in the reporting of seclusion rooms and restraint of students in schools.

In 2017, the senators demanded answers to reports of the misreporting in Iowa school districts. Last week, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office revealed widespread inaccuracies in the reporting of seclusion and restraint nationwide.

“Children deserve a safe learning environment. Events that disrupt that safety need to be immediately and accurately reported,” Grassley said in a release. “Without transparent reporting, no solutions can be identified. That puts children at risk. … The Department of Education must take decisive steps to address reporting problems and increase overall transparency surrounding this issue.”

Ernst said she wasn’t surprised by the report, but agreed its contents needed to be solved.

“There is clearly a systemic problem, and we need to get to the bottom of it to ensure our students are safe and the reporting on these tactics in our schools is accurate,” she said in the release.

CALENDAR

  • 5:30 p.m. today, Tabor Home Winery, 3570 65th Street, Baldwin, Iowa — Presidential candidates Delaney and Williamson, as well as Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Ernst will attend a Jackson County Democrats event.
  • 9 a.m. Monday, July 1, Inspire Cafe, 955 Washington St #105 — Delaney will hold a post-debate campaign stop in Dubuque.
  • 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 3, Inspire Cafe — Presidential candidate, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan will make a stop on a statewide tour of education discussions.
  • 5 p.m., Thursday, July 4, Cole Park, 300 N. Sixth St, Bellevue, Iowa — Bullock will attend the Bellevue Heritage Days celebration.
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