Campaigns are either about persuasion (convincing voters to support their candidate) or mobilization (simply turning out voters who already side with a candidate).
Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ rally tonight in Cedar Rapids, in the real battleground area of the state to the east of Des Moines, was clearly targeted at young voters, whose turnout in record numbers is essential for a Sanders victory. For the second night in a row, Sanders appeared with an indie music act. In this case it was Grammy winner Vampire Weekend. (Last night, it was Bon Iver.)
Mission accomplished in that the average age of the 3,000-person crowd at a small arena in Cedar Rapids was about 28. The weird thing about the event was the very long buildup to Sanders and Vampire Weekend with speaker after speaker — from documentary film producer Michael Moore to fiery campaign co-chair Nina Turner of Ohio to a panel of members of the Progressive Caucus in Congress (including the superstar Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota) to the dynamic Dr. Cornel West to Jane Sanders, who all made the case for Sanders’ consistency as a progressive. As Moore put it, “The Bernie of 1963 will be the Bernie of 2023.”
This was a crowd that didn’t need to be persuaded that Bernie was their guy. Instead, they simply needed to be inspired to show up on Monday to caucus. All the talking by Sanders surrogates who like to talk bogged down this mobilization event. The powerful West was clearly the lead-in, sharply making the case for Sanders in a speech in which he name-dropped numerous American heroes — from Helen Keller to Walt Whitman to Nina Simone — who share Sanders’ values.
Sanders was clearly in synch with the audience in his remarks, a flurry of his greatest hits: He wants “a government that works for working people”; “the Sanders Administration will believe in science” in its focus on attacking climate change; he promises to correct the “broken and racist” criminal justice system; he pledges to legalize recreational marijuana by executive action on his “first busy day in office”; etc. For his closing argument in Iowa, however, Sanders has also added more direct attacks on President Trump, whom he described as a “pathological liar.”
He was also quite honest in pointing to high turnout among those who don’t reliably caucus (like those in the audience) for him to win on Monday. The Sanders campaign (or “movement” as Sanders and others called it) is now favored to win on Monday among most watchers of events in Iowa, but all agree it’s a precarious lead because of its dependence upon record turnout levels if it is to beat back “the Establishment.” As Sanders summed up, “the whole world is looking at Iowa” to see if the political establishment — Republican and Democratic — can be be beaten by his movement that has knocked 500,000 doors in the state.
Outside of the national press that quickly scattered back to Des Moines to file their stories and talk about the fiasco surrounding the Des Moines Register/CNN poll, most of the audience stayed around for the short concert by a crisp-sounding Vampire Weekend.