The Iowa Impact: Key Takeaways from the 2016 Democratic Party Dinner

October 28, 2015
Tracy Terrell, Associate Vice President, Client Relations

On October 24, I attended the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner sponsored by the Iowa Democratic Party so that I could see, firsthand, what over 6,600 Democrats think of their Presidential candidates and what issues resonate among Iowan constituents.

Iowa is the first state in the nation where voters have a chance to show their support for the Presidential candidates through the caucus. And most of the time, they seem to hold a great deal of influence on the future progression of the campaigns. Since 1972, 7 out of 10 Iowa Democratic Party caucus winners went on to win the party’s nomination for President. While an Iowa win does not guarantee the nomination, it does give candidates a considerable boost in momentum.

Leading up to the caucus, the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner is a landmark occasion sponsored by the Iowa Democratic Party. This event carries special significance in pre-election years as each candidate has the opportunity to address a room full of Democratic activists and party leaders. A good showing at the “JJ”, as it is known in Iowa, can change the trajectory of the race—as happened in the fall of 2007 when candidate, and now President, Obama saw his poll numbers surge ahead of Clinton’s post his inspirational speech at the event.

Several key issues stood out at this year’s JJ event:

Financial Reform: All three Democratic hopefuls discuss prosecuting criminal activity by the banking industry and its executives. However, Senator Bernie Sanders and Governor Martin O’Malley hold the view that Glass-Steagall should be reinstated, believing this would wall off commercial banking from riskier investment banking. The 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act, a bipartisan bill, was introduced in the U.S. Senate and the House but the fate of such legislation may rest on the 2016 elections.

Climate Change: All of the current Democratic candidates believe climate change is a real threat, though each prioritizes slightly different ideas addressing environmental issue management. Senator Sanders fired up the crowd with his urgent call to address climate change and his strong opposition to the Keystone Pipeline. Secretary Clinton pressed for enough renewable energy to power every home in America within the coming decade. Governor O’Malley pushed his plan for a 100% clean electric grid by 2050. This means that if a Democrat is elected, they will continue to carry President Obama’s torch in addressing climate change as a serious issue.

Trade Agreements: Senator Sanders stated that he is against NAFTA, CAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Governor O’Malley is against the TPP or any ‘secret’ trade agreements that do not guarantee stringent labor and environmental standards. Secretary Clinton once said that the TPP was the ‘gold standard’ of trade agreements, but has since recanted her support. This puts these candidates in direct opposition with the White House and many of America’s multinational firms.

100 days after the JJ dinner, the Iowa voters will caucus, but after the dinner questions still remain. After speaking with undecided voters, genuine indecision seems to remain, which bears the question of who these voters ultimately will caucus for? Will Senator Sanders overtake Secretary Clinton in Iowa if he continues to focus his remarks on their contrasts to Senate votes? Is Governor O’Malley encouraged that Mr. Yepsen, once known as the Dean of the Iowa press corps, says that O’Malley “still has legs” and shouldn’t be counted out? Did Secretary Clinton clinch her frontrunner status with her performance at the 11 hour Benghazi hearing? We will have to stay tuned until Feb. 1 when Iowa caucus goers finally make their decision.


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