The Oracle plays favorites in Iowa

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J.D. Scholten, a Dem running to replace Steve King in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, speaks to a large crowd awaiting Pete Buttigieg in a sweltering high school gym.

We’re now less than six months from the Iowa caucus next February 3rd.

Like a lot of you, for better or worse, I’ve watched as much of the televised debates as I could stand, along with countless tweets, TV interviews and town halls, etc., etc. Unlike most of you, I live in Iowa, which means that I’ve had multiple opportunities to see most of the candidates in person from various distances — the back of a ballroom, a few rows from the stage, or face to face. These are some of my favorites — the ones I like, not necessarily the ones most likely to win — in no particular order.

Pete Buttigieg

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“I’ve never signed a Teletubby before!” — Pete Buttigieg, without hesitation, autographs a Tinky Winky, the children’s TV character which the late televangelist Jerry Falwell asserted to be gay.

I took notice of Mayor Pete when I saw his CNN town hall. I like his intelligence and youth, his mostly moderate-to-liberal positions (yes, I’m a center-left, moderate kind of guy) and his unwillingness to concede the “values” debate to the right — particularly the religious right. I like that he’s a vet. Buttigieg comes off very at-ease in his public appearances. At the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, he got a big, enthusiastic welcome and he kept the energy level high during a tight, well paced, five-minute stump speech. I think that this guy is more popular here than a lot of people realize.

Buttigieg is sharp. He slightly mangled one of his own campaign lines at the Wing Ding and corrected himself in mid-sentence without drawing unnecessary attention to the miscue. Buttigieg has done some very smart hiring, including a communications director who wants him everywhere. His message and messaging are strong.

Elizabeth Warren

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Elizabeth Warren fields a question at a Morningside College town hall.

I am not crazy about some of Elizabeth Warren’s policy positions and proposals, but I really like her. I’ve seen Warren at three very different events. Her strongest outing by far was a town hall meeting, a very warm room on a very hot day, where her personal story was a knockout. This is someone who projects firmly held convictions about things like being able to pay the bills with one full-time job, and she does not back down. Warren has the brain of a college professor (which she has been) and an indominable spirit. Elizabeth Warren might have to adjust course, but she will never stop moving forward. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Kamala Harris

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Kamala Harris poses with some fans

The first time Kamala Harris came to town, she appeared at a church which was just too small for the crowd that turned out. Her return trip, part of a bus tour during the Iowa State Fair, was booked for a park pavilion. Harris’ stump speech was strong. She makes a good argument for her ability to prosecute a case against the sitting president, whom she identifies as a predator. Harris’ podium sign urges supporters to text “FEARLESS” and it fits. Clearly she does not intimidate easily. Did anyone see her Senate questioning of AG Barr? Harris has built up an organization that says she plans to be around.

Cory Booker

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Cory Booker rocks the Surf Ballroom.

Cory Booker has been a little slow to catch on during the primary so far, but he may be hitting his stride. Booker is a particularly strong stump speaker and at the Iowa Wing Ding — the only venue where I’ve seen him speak in person this year — he had the crowd on their feet. Booker has a real skill for lifting up a crowd. He and Buttigieg are the two Rhodes scholars in the race, and they are both excellent orators (with different styles).

Michael Bennet

Colorado’s senior Senator was originally appointed to his position when his predecessor was named Interior Secretary. Since then, Michael Bennet, 54, has been elected twice. In 2010 he had a tough primary against a popular and well-known Colorado Democrat, but prevailed and went on to win the general election in a very tough year for Dems. 2016 also had its challenges, but Bennet won re-election. I’ve followed Bennet with interest, as I lived in Colorado until spring 2017, and I like him.

Michael Bennet got a late entry into the primary this year due to a health scare. That was quickly resolved and he was off and running. Bennet is generally described as moderate, and though that’s a label with some negative connotations these days, it doesn’t mean that he’s a wishy-washy, half-a-loaf kind of public servant. One of my friends says Bennet is a “true moderate” but I’d say he’s more of a classic social liberal. He’s gotten a lot of favorable press and does well in interviews. His debating has been solid. Whatever the eventual outcome of this race, I’d say that Bennet’s stock is only going up. If one or more of the current front runners flame out — which I think likely — then look for Michael Bennet to rise still further. But he needs to make the next debate.

Bennet’s speech at the Wing Ding was well received despite some audio issues. Most speakers later in the evening used a hand held microphone.

…and the rest

Are here on Gilligan’s Isle? No, but close. I’ve written about Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the past, and neither has done anything to persuade me to support them in the primary. Being relatively popular and well known isn’t enough and I’ve already shared some thoughts on The Electability Conundrum. But if either gets the nomination, yes, I’ll vote for him.

Beto O’Rourke seems like an earnest guy, but somehow I can’t get past wondering why he imagined that he was “just born to be in this.” Marianne Williamson has sounded far less nutty in person than she did in that disastrous first debate, and she is saying things that ring true with a lot of Dems. She will not be president. Andrew Yang comes across as a very likable guy who is smart and funny and, well, maybe a member of the cabinet? Amy Klobouchar and Kirsten Gillibrand fail to inspire me, although I thought the latter had a very strong town hall answer about abortion early in the campaign. Tulsi Gabbard seems out of her league and somewhat of a loose cannon — like someone you shouldn’t turn your back on. DeBlasio, Delaney and  Bullock do nothing for me, though I notice that they sound like a winning law firm. Oh, and Tom Steyer can take his billions and go buy a friend; he isn’t making any in this primary.

Whomever I’ve forgotten, sorry. I hope you didn’t mortgage your house for this.

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