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Democratic Voters In Iowa React To First Night Of Presidential Debate


The first in the nation, Iowa caucuses are set for February of 2020, and many of that state's voters were watching last night's Democratic debate. So what were their takeaways? Iowa Public Radio's Kate Payne watched the debate at a bar in Cedar Rapids.

KATE PAYNE, BYLINE: Dozens of Iowa Democrats crowded in a sports bar in suburban Cedar Rapids Tuesday night. Campaign workers for a slate of candidates were milling around with clipboards to take down their contact info. The hope is to keep them engaged and sell their candidate in a crowded field.

BRI YOUNG: I'm Bri Young, being interrupted by someone from Beto's campaign.


PAYNE: It was a mixed crowd with plenty of committed voters. The current crop of candidates have been in the state for months, some making the rounds two years before they even declared their candidacy. Mickey Rottinghaus said a number of candidates stuck out, including Marianne Williamson, but not in a good way.

MICKEY ROTTINGHAUS: Williamson kind of scares me (laughter). I'm sorry. I just - the lack of substance.

PAYNE: But she says Elizabeth Warren is solidly on her shortlist.

ROTTINGHAUS: You know what? We are in a position where we need somebody forceful, and we need somebody who's direct, and we need somebody who's honest. And she's got all of those qualities.

PAYNE: Warren got a lot of applause lines in the room, amplified by a throng of organizers.


PAYNE: Jim Williams says the moderators gave a fair shot to lower-polling candidates, which he liked as a supporter of John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland. Still, he says, he'll be glad when the field thins out.

JIM WILLIAMS: Most of these people are just running on their personalities and that. And the thing that's lacking in the Democratic Party - we don't have a leader.

PAYNE: But a lot of voters here said the debate didn't really change their views of the candidates. Like many active Iowa Democrats, Cathy Meyer has met a number of them in person, which she says is more helpful.

CATHY MEYER: I've been fortunate enough, like I said, to talk one-on-one. It's very brief, but I can get their points on what they're doing as far as child care and building America up.

PAYNE: More than any candidate's talking points, the moment that drew what might have been the biggest reaction in the room was a television ad for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign. He won the state in 2016, but reactions in the room didn't show that.


PAYNE: These Iowa Democrats agree on that at least - their opposition to Trump.

For NPR News, I'm Kate Payne in Cedar Rapids. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kate Payne is an Iowa City-based reporter for Iowa Public Radio. Before she came to the Hawkeye State she was a reporter and fill-in host for WFSU, the NPR member station in Tallahassee, Florida. Kate has won awards for her political and feature reporting and her sound editing.