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Democratic Candidates Get Down To Business ... By Sitting Down To Dinner


We're going to start off talking politics. In a few minutes, we'll hear why some people are pretty angry at "Saturday Night Live," and it's not because they're getting mocked in a skit. But first we are heading to Iowa, where it is a big night for the Democrats who want to be president. Tonight is the annual Jefferson Jackson Dinner in downtown Des Moines. With Vice President Joe Biden clear that he won't get in the race and two other candidates having dropped out, the spotlight is now fully trained on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley is still hanging on. NPR's Sarah McCammon is with us from Des Moines. Hi, Sarah.


MARTIN: So what are the candidates doing to create excitement and momentum?

MCCAMMON: Well, there has been a lot of ramp up today. All three remaining Democratic candidates that you mentioned have held rallies and musical events this weekend. So supporters of both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had rallies and state marches, kind of making it a grand entrance into the venue. I also saw some supporters of former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley rallying outside. Hillary Clinton brought in starpower. She brought in Katy Perry, headlining a rally for her, just outside the event center. Also Bill Clinton, her husband, was there, talking about the 40 years they've been married and saw her career as secretary of state and in the Senate. Bernie Sanders gets his own musical performance last night and, of course, had his rally. And the former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley I was told was also singing at a rally. So lots of music and lots of fun today.

MARTIN: Lots of music - yeah, hard to compete with Katy Perry though. What's the Jefferson Jackson Dinner all about? Would you remind us? Why is it so important?

MCCAMMON: It is a big annual fundraiser for the Democrats. But more importantly, in a year like this, these are really engaged, fired up Democrats who are willing to buy tickets to a big dinner. And these are the people that the candidates need to win over if they want to be successful in the very important first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses coming up in February. There will be thousands of people here. More than 6,000 Democrats have bought tickets. And it does fall just a few months before the caucuses, and it can really be a turning point. This dinner has a history of being a big moment for candidates, like Barack Obama, who, eight years ago, really lit up the room with his speech. A lot of people who were there say there was just a real energy in the room. And that set him apart and kind of ignited his candidacy in the minds of a lot of people.

MARTIN: Well, now this has been a really big week in politics, particularly people who have been following politics on the Democratic side. We mentioned that vice president Joe Biden made it clear that he won't be running, and former Secretary of State Clinton had a marathon performance at the Benghazi hearings. How are the voters there responding to all this? What are they telling you?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, it's hard to overstate how important Vice President Joe Biden's announcement is for Hillary Clinton. You know, in most polls her lead over Bernie Sanders really grows with the vice president not in the race. She has come off a big week since the Benghazi hearings on Thursday. And the voters I talked to say they think she looks good. They think she looks presidential. These are Democratic voters. I met some who are also backing Bernie Sanders because they feel like, you know, they're excited about his policy positions. But a lot of Democrats here in Iowa that I've heard from say they want to move on and stop talking about emails and Benghazi and talk about the issues. And tonight is a chance for the candidates to do that.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon in Des Moines. Sarah, thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.