This story was co-published with The Washington Post.
Before making her final pitch to Iowa caucus-goers in Cedar Falls on Sunday, Democratic state Sen. Liz Mathis unveiled a T-shirt in 2020 hopeful Amy Klobuchar’s signature campaign green, with a new message making the case for her candidacy in capital letters: AMY KLOBUCHAR CAN BEAT DONALD TRUMP.
Mathis, who was also joined by Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan before Klobuchar addressed the audience, underscored the message for both the faithful and fickle in the crowd on the eve of the caucuses.
“She is so talented, she is so smart … but overall, she can beat Trump and she can move the country forward — and those are the two things we’re looking for in a candidate,” Mathis said.
Across the Hawkeye State, it was women who were making the case over the weekend to anxious Iowans. While the state is lacking in racial diversity, with a population that is more than 90 percent White, more than half the residents are female. And women are the majority of the Democratic electorate in Iowa and primaries nationwide.
With many still unsure about who they think is the strongest candidate to defeat President Trump in November — the top issue for many Democrats — the task fell largely to female surrogates to argue for their candidates’ electability and energize the electorate here.
Veteran Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said the increased visibility of women as surrogates is “extremely new” on the caucus campaign trail.
“In the past, only a handful of women, including spouses, could command the floor,” Brazile said. “Now, we see evidence that women will claim our seats at the table, not only as candidates, or spouses, but chief surrogates and political strategists.”
Campaigning for Sen. Bernie Sanders four years ago, Nina Turner said, was “very lonely,” particularly as a woman. But the atmosphere in Iowa over the weekend marked a shift.
“It is very clear that the presence of women is front and center across campaigns,” said Turner, who is campaign co-chair for Sanders and campaigned for him in multiple cities across the state. “There are more of us. It shines a bright light and gives an opportunity for other women to say, ‘If this woman supports him, then I can support him, too.’ We are the lighthouse in this campaign.”
Sanders, one of four candidates at the top of polls in Iowa headed into the caucuses, has been endorsed by three of the four members of “the Squad,” the freshman congresswomen elected in 2018 who were part of the wave of women and people of color who helped usher in the most diverse Congress in U.S. history. Campaigning for Sanders at an event in Clive, Iowa, on Friday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — joined by fellow freshman and Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, as well as Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington — drew controversy for booing 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. She later apologized, saying that her “sisters-in-service onstage … deserve better.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, also a member of the Squad and campaign co-chair for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, made her first trip to Iowa in recent days. Taking the stage at an event in Iowa City on Friday, she told the crowd, “This is what democracy looks like, and this is what a movement feels like.”
“Everyone in this room … you are powerful,” Pressley said. “You are writing history in this moment. We can’t do this work alone. We need a partner, and you will have that in Elizabeth Warren as our next president.”
Pressley is among three female co-chairs who campaigned for Warren this past weekend, along with Reps. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Katie Porter of California, both of them also high-profile freshman congresswomen.
Joining Jill Biden on the stump for her husband on Sunday afternoon was his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and Iowa’s freshman Democratic congresswomen Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer, who both talked about Joe Biden’s strength as a candidate, not only in terms of his experience and empathy but also in his ability to help elect down-ballot Democrats he would need to help him govern.
After hearing from several 2020 Democratic hopefuls over the year leading up to the Iowa caucuses, Judith Jaschke of Des Moines committed to supporting Biden early last year and said she has never wavered in her decision.
On Monday night, she’ll work for Biden as a precinct captain. She said she signed up for the role a month ago and has been calling friends and family in Iowa and across the country to persuade them to back Biden.
“My friends are feeling it,” said Jaschke, 52, who described the mood ahead of the caucuses as exciting but stressful. “We’re not just choosing for us as Iowans. We’re thinking of our friends, our neighbors. It’s about what we feel is best for America.”
Several candidates are poised for a strong finish with caucus-goers Monday night, and it’s unclear whether or how female advocates might influence their decision. But it’s not surprising to see this year’s Democrats deploying women on their behalf, said Kelly Dittmar, political scientist at the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
“There continues to be real energy around women’s political empowerment, especially post-2016, that can be fed further via women surrogates,” Dittmar said, adding that such a strategy could continue in other states but could shift if the candidate pool changes after Iowa. “The Democratic Party can create a strong contrast with the Republican Party, and the Democratic nominee with Donald Trump, along gender lines, showing the Democrats’ advantage with women voters as well as their success in achieving greater gender equity than Republicans among candidates and elected officials.”