Closing arguments near



The Iowa Democratic presidential field appears narrowing to four candidates in the top tier: Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. With the holidays fast approaching, the Feb. 3 caucuses are surprisingly close. Candidates hoping for a breakthrough need to make their move as caucus-goers begin to make up their minds. The most recent opportunity, the Liberty and Justice supper in Des Moines last Friday, did not provide that moment as it did in 2007 when Barack Obama electrified the hall.

It will be more difficult every day for a dark-horse campaign to oust one of those front-runners. Anything can happen. Amy Klobuchar spoke well at the supper and could be that person, but … Warren and Buttigieg are raising money furiously, Bernie Sanders is organizing for a revolution, and Biden’s presence in the race remains formidable if fading.

Warren and Buttigieg have been gaining, and that was evident in front of the 13,000 Democrats packed into Wells Fargo arena. They exchanged jabs in what might be turning into a joust between those two, with the beefiest organizations tracking even the tiniest precincts in Democrat-sparse Calhoun and Sac counties.

Warren remains in the best position to win the caucuses, where the ground game is everything. Speeches, chants and TV ads all play their part. In the end, it is organization that turns out an Iowan on a cold February night to sit in a gym for three hours listening to surrogates argue for their candidates.

Warren and Sanders have over half the Democratic base on their side. This after so much breath spent on Medicare for All, and whether it would increase taxes. Warren just before the supper released her plan that — surprise! — proposes to tax the rich to treat the poor. She bid high in hopes of exciting the progressive base, and it has not sidelined her yet. Most Democrats understand that whatever she or Sanders proposes today will not come out that same color once it has been washed by Congress, no matter which party controls it.

That Warren would go for broke and stand on principle — that single-payer health care will be better and cheaper than our current unsustainable model — may shock those on Medicare receiving Social Security who worry that she will be tagged a “socialist.” Warren says she is a “capitalist.” Social Security, a minimum wage and a 40-hour work week were all “socialist” ideas cooked up by those bolshevik blueblood Roosevelts from New York City. Barack Obama started out wanting universal health care and ended up with the Affordable Care Act, which was better than nothing but not great.

Buttigieg is running in the moderate lane with Klobuchar, warning everyone to stay sober because you can’t always get what you want. Ultimately, that is not the sort of vision that landed man on the moon or defeated the Nazis. It remains difficult to see how their health plans, mushier than Warren or Sanders, will solve anybody’s real problems.

“We win when we offer solutions big enough to touch the problems that are in people’s lives,” Warren told the crowd. “I’m not running some consultant-driven campaign with some vague ideas that are designed not to offend anyone.”

That makes a lot of progressives want to grab their pitchforks and do something.

It makes a lot of other people nervous.

Buttigieg once said during a debate that since the Republicans are going to call you a socialist no matter what, you might as well run on the issues that appeal to you. It appears that is what Warren is doing. We would prefer a different approach that allowed private health insurance to continue. Yet, a majority of Democrats are enthusiastic about Warren and Sanders. A declining number are attracted to returning to the Obama years, and fewer voters are interested in being told how limited our possibilities are. Hard-working people want to know that they won’t go bankrupt paying for medical bills. It is the number one issue for Iowa voters. It might be the defining issue of the final weeks leading to the caucuses. Would we rather direct our premiums to Medicare for All, in return for no copays or deductibles? Emphatically, yes. Do we believe it will cost us more? No.

Warren is betting that Iowans will figure it out and go big. She made a conscious political decision to take that risk. Her support grows. It will come down to who can get people to the caucuses, more than anything said over supper last Friday night. Warren and Buttigieg are in the best position because of their organization. For now, she has the upper hand in clarity and purpose.

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