Tom Steyer tries to win over caucusgoers in town hall at Iowa State

Tom Steyer speaks to potential caucusgoers on Jan. 27 in the Scheman Building at Iowa State.

Jake Webster

Tom Steyer hosted a town hall late Monday at Iowa State to try to seal the deal with potential caucusgoers seven days ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

The billionaire businessman’s event seemed to have done the job for several voters, who were signing “commit to caucus” cards for Steyer just outside the room he spoke in, though Kevin Cavallin, assistant scientist in biotechnology at Iowa State, is still trying to decide on a candidate to support with just a week to go.

Cavallin said he has seen 25 Democratic presidential candidates and two Republican candidates.

“I’m undecided, but I’m leaning towards — I’m waffling between [Joe] Biden and [Pete] Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and [Amy] Klobuchar,” Cavallin said. “Each one has their strengths, each one has their weaknesses. Because again, it seems like there’s a battle between the more moderate wing and the more progressive wing, and the question comes up between practicality and idealism.”

More than 100 people attended Steyer’s event, with staffers making their way through rows of chairs to try to secure voter contact information and get people to sign those commit to caucus cards ubiquitous in Iowa campaigns.

Asked by reporters what his closing message to caucusgoers is, Steyer said simply, “I can beat Trump.”

“[Trump]’s running on the economy; I’m the person with the experience on the economy who can actually say to him, ‘You’re a fake,’” Steyer said.

Cornelia Flora, emeritus professor of sociology, introduced Steyer before he spoke at voters at the town hall.

“I first met Tom in 2014 around NextGen climate change where he was doing a wonderful job with young people, mobilizing them to express their votes as concrete policies to address climate change,” Flora said. “Unlike other politicians with a great deal of money, he spent his money on creating a better world rather than building hotels, golf clubs and casinos with his name emblazoned on them.”

Steyer has focused his campaign around the issue of climate change, with the candidate running recent television and digital ads focused on his efforts to fight climate change.

Steyer took the stage and told the audience about his family background.

“My mom was a teacher — my mom was from Minneapolis, Minnesota,” Steyer said. “And she was a teacher in the New York public schools, and after she retired as a teacher, she was a teacher in the Brooklyn House of Detention — teaching prisoners how to read. My dad was the first generation in his family to go to college. My father graduated […] from college at the age of 18; he went to law school, he became a lawyer. He left the law in order to become a naval officer in World War II.”

Steyer’s father went on to become the assistant to the chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, prosecuting Nazi war criminals, Steyer said.

The candidate fielded a question related to that from someone in the audience during his town hall.

Steyer was asked to speak to the fact his town hall took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and how “a few of us in this room might not be spared” had they been in Nazi-occupied Europe.

“This is definitely at the heart of this election,” Steyer said. “This isn’t just the day to remember the Holocaust. As far as I’m concerned, every day in America there’s a question about who do we consider a full human being, and when I look at American history, we started with a fraction of the people in the country being recognized politically as full human beings — no women, no black people, no natives. […] [T]o me, the greatness of America is not where we started — it’s the progress — including marriage equality, right up to today.”

Steyer currently sits in seventh place among likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers with 2.8 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.

Speaking to reporters, Steyer was asked who he would recommend his supporters back on a second round during the caucuses should he not reach the 15 percent threshold necessary for viability in certain precincts.

“You know, honestly, I’m not the person who’s the strategist on this campaign,” Steyer said. “I’m the person who’s out here saying why I think it’s really important that we do the right thing as a country and why I think I’m the right candidate to follow.”