CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — In five-minute chunks of speaking time, nearly 20 Democratic presidential candidates are getting the chance to make their case before hundreds of party leaders at an important testing ground in early-voting Iowa.
Absent from Sunday's event is Joe Biden, who leads in early polling, and that promises to give the gathering the look of an audition for the former vice president's would-be top challengers heading into the summer campaign season in the leadoff 2020 caucus state.
Expected to take the stage for their strictly-enforced time-limited speeches were 19 of 24 Democrats who have joined the race to unseat President Donald Trump.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose quiet, Midwestern approach and profile as 37-year-old Afghanistan veteran and married gay man has captured some Iowans' attention, also not so subtly challenged the idea that Biden's experience made him the best party standard bearer.
"We're not going to win by playing it safe or promising a return to normal," Buttigieg said. "We are where we are because normal broke. ... Democrats can no more promise a return to the '90s than Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the '50s."
Here are Pete Buttigieg's remarks according to his campaign:
Hello! Hello Iowa Democrats. Thank you to the Iowa Democratic Party and thank you to the honorees who are being acknowledged today for demonstrating that democratic politics and progressive values are alive in the American heartland.
My name is Pete Buttigieg. They mostly just call me “Mayor Pete” back home. I’m here to tell you who I am, what I believe, and why I’m doing this.
We’re doing this because our values are on the line and this season in the life of American’s political development is one to end the idea that American values are property of conservatives and Republicans. Starting with freedom. Freedom is not a conservative value, it is an American value. And while our Republican friends like to talk about freedom like it’s theirs alone, we know that freedom includes economic freedom and you’re not free if you don’t have a living wage in this country.
The GOP has sacrificed its ability to claim to be the party of freedom, especially when we see an attack on women’s reproductive freedom that all of us, especially men ought to be standing up to defend. And yes, here in Iowa where you turned heads around the nation ten years ago, we know that you are not free if some county clerk gets to tell you who you ought to marry based on their idea of their religion.
We know that freedom has come by way of organizing, that’s why we stand shoulder to shoulder with labor. And we know that freedom comes by way of education, which is why on day one the new president needs to appoint a Secretary of Education who actually believes in public education.
Freedom doesn’t belong to the Republican Party, and neither does patriotism. When I got on that gray tail C-17 to take me that took me to Afghanistan on the orders of an American President, the flag on my shoulder was not a Republican flag, it was an American flag representing belonging for all of us in the republic for which it stands.
So don’t let anybody tell you that they own national security -- not when their vision of security goes no further than putting up a wall from sea to shining sea. Because that is not going to help with cybersecurity. That is not going to help with election security. That is not going to help us name and confront the violent white nationalism that presents a clear and present threat to our country.
I don’t have to tell Cedar Rapids that the time has come to treat climate disruption as the security issue that it is. Which is why we should not only rejoin the Paris Accords, we ought to have a Pittsburgh summit to bring together American cities and communities to do something about the issue with federal support.
Freedom is not a conservative value, patriotism is not a conservative-only value, and God does not belong to any political party, least of all the one that produced this current president. Now we’ve got a lot of work to do to vindicate our values, to establish a true democracy where money can’t out-vote people and politicians can’t choose their voters by drawing districts the way they like. A democracy where all U.S. citizens, including those of D.C. and Puerto Rico enjoy proper political representation in our capital. And maybe even in this greatest democracy in the world we might go about choosing our president by giving it to the person that got the most votes.
Now I think we’re all more or less of one accord on our values, so the biggest question is, how are we going to win? And we’re not going to win by playing it safe or by promising a return to normal. We are where we are because normal broke. And we Democrats can no more promise a return to the ‘90s than Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the ‘50s. The only thing we can do is to look at that show that this president’s created, whatever you want to call it, reality show, horror show, game show, and we’re going to change the channel to something completely different. Help me change the channel. Help us win the era. Help us bring about a new era in the life of this country, and we will be glad that it started right here in Iowa. Thank you and I’ll see you on the trail.
The high-profile campaign stop event comes in the wake of Biden's reversal Thursday on a key abortion policy position. Biden now supports federal funding for abortion services after opposing it for decades.
That, and other parts of the former Delaware senator's long record, created an opportunity for many abortion-rights supporters to step up their criticism of Biden to an influential audience.
Outside the downtown Cedar Rapids convention center where the hours-long event was to take place, volunteers and supporters of candidates grouped in the early summer heat chanting in a cacophony of shouts that included drums and tambourines as they awaited the candidates to arrive.
Many of the candidates participating have been traveling to Iowa for months and are hoping for a strong showing of supporters outside the convention center in Cedar Rapids, such as Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, in hopes of projecting momentum eight months ahead of the 2020 caucuses.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar took solace in a Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom poll published Saturday that showed her tied for sixth in the historically large field, though only receiving support from two percent of likely caucus attendees.
"I'm happy to be in the top six and ahead of 18 people, and we've got a long campaign ahead of us," Klobuchar told CBS's "Face The Nation."
Biden was favored in the poll, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and California Sen. Kamala Harris.