Presidential candidates met with progressive crowd in Des Moines forum


Jake Webster/Iowa State Daily

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., greets a moderator at the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action presidential forum Saturday in Des Moines. Sanders spoke about health care and tuition-free college during his time at the forum.

Jake Webster

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action’s presidential forum saw progressive candidates cheered and moderate candidates jeered Saturday.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Sec. of Housing and Urban Develop Julián Castro, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-Ind., spoke (in that order) to a crowd full of voters from around the Midwest — a crowd that heavily applauded progressive policy proposals from candidates.

On its website, the Iowa Community Citizens Improvement Action Fund refers to itself as “an important independent political force that speaks truth to (political) power and drives the public debate towards populist ‘people before profits,’ communities before corporations’ policies and actions.”

When Sanders said he authored the “Medicare for All” bill, the Vermont senator received an extended standing ovation. The crowd greeted nearly every response he made during his time onstage with cheers.

Perhaps the biggest applause line of the day, however, was Castro’s response following a testimonial from Jackie Torres-Toro. Torres-Toro fled violence in Honduras after her husband was murdered and she was extorted.

In Spanish, Torres-Toro said she did not want to leave her country, but she left because gang members forced her out of her country.

“Under my administration we’re going to stop separating families — no more children in cages, or sleeping on floors. No more playing games with people who are trying to get asylum at the border,” Castro said to rapturous applause and cheers. “No more treating people like they’re less than human. No more scapegoating of immigrants, and acting like they are other from us. No more inciting fear and cruelty people towards people who are human beings also, and also deserve a voice!”

Meanwhile the more moderate Buttigieg received boos when defending some of his more centrist policies.

When discussing his health care plan specifically, Buttigieg was interrupted by protestors chanting “Medicare for All.”

One of the moderators of the forum told the assembled to be “respectful,” adding she was on their “side.”

Rather than joining Sanders and Warren in support for Medicare for All, Buttigieg proposed a “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan, allowing people to either buy into Medicare or keep their private insurance if they choose.

Buttigieg also had a heated exchange with Chris Simmons, sophomore in political science, and Kiran Lowenstein, a student at Grinnell College, over tuition-free college. Simmons said he is “a proud, queer, working-class student in Iowa.”

Lowenstein asked Buttigieg whether he would support universal “free college,” and the mayor replied he supports debt-free college, adding he is not comfortable “subsidizing the children of billionaires to go to college.”

Visibly upset, Lowenstein said “debt-free college isn’t good enough.”

“It won’t help students like us get to college. Yes, or no: do you have our backs — will you support free college for all?”

Buttigieg asked the pair whether they are billionaires (they are not) and said he has their backs.

“Those who face a barrier to the cost of college — anyone who would qualify for a Pell Grant, or middle income students. I’ve got you covered,” Buttigieg said. “I just don’t believe we should prioritize paying for the very wealthiest in this country to go to college when they could be helping with their own tuition costs.”

Nicole Whitlock, senior in elementary education, said she liked Warren, Castro and Sanders, but did not think Buttigieg did a “very good job.”

“I thought [Buttigieg] was a little condescending, and that he could have been more relatable to the people who were there — I thought he was just a little too stiff,” Whitlock said.

Though the forum’s crowd was progressive and friendly to Sanders — it was decidedly unrepresentative of Iowa’s politics as a whole.

Late Saturday the latest Selzer Iowa poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers for the Des Moines Register, CNN and Mediacom was released.

Warren leads in the state with 22 percent support, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 20 percent. Sanders is in third with 11 percent while Buttigieg trails on 9 percent.

Should Sanders want the rest of the state to reflect the mood of the room in Des Moines Saturday — he has work to do to win over voters.