CLEAR LAKE — If this was an early glimpse into what the race to the 2020 caucuses is going to look like, buckle your safety belts, Iowa.
The featured speakers at the 2018 Iowa Wing Ding, an annual fundraiser hosted by a coalition of northern Iowa Democratic county parties, included two congressmen, a former tech executive and the attorney to a former adult film actress suing President Donald Trump over an alleged affair before he was president.
The 2020 Iowa caucuses are roughly 18 months away.
Roughly 1,000 Democrats came to the Surf Ballroom, organizers said, to hear from current and potential 2020 presidential candidates.
The highest interest was in Michael Avenatti, who rose to prominence as the attorney to Stormy Daniels. Organizers said ticket sales to the event soared after Avenatti’s appearance was announced.
Avenatti’s remarks also drew the most responses from the audience. He called on Democrats to fight fire with fire, saying the party must fight during the campaign in order to defeat Trump and deliver the kind of government they believe in.
“When they go low, I say, we hit harder,” Avenatti said, playing off former first lady Michelle Obama’s famous quote, “When they go low, we go high.”
“I know some of you may disagree with me,” Avenatti continued. “The answer to Donald Trump, you may say, is being the opposite of him. Being noble, being kind, being classy. And I am all for those things. But tonight, with our country under an unprecedented assault by a con man who fights only for himself and degrades the vulnerable and the powerless and regular hard-working people, I believe that we must honestly ask ourselves as a party whether the folks we are fighting for can afford our gentleness.”
Avenatti stayed after the event and greeted dozens of people who huddled around him and had their picture taken with him.
He said he feels called to action, although he does not yet know “in what way” he will step up. But in true candidate-in-waiting form, he noted his Iowa connection: He worked on Bonnie Campbell’s 1994 campaign for Iowa governor.
John Delaney, a congressman from Maryland who has been campaigning in Iowa for roughly a year, called on Democrats to establish a broad coalition of voters: progressives, centrist Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans. He said those voters have in common a desire for their representatives to work together to create a government that has a positive impact on their lives.
“They want us to focus on the basic things that matter to them,” Delaney said. “They want us to actually come together to get things done for the American people.”
Tim Ryan, an Ohio congressman and frequent visitor to Iowa, decried what he said were rigged and broken economic and health care systems, and said Democrats must fight not only for a higher minimum wage, but for higher middle-class wages.
“If we’re going to be an aspirational party, we need to be the party that is working for $30 and $40-per-hour jobs,” Ryan said.
Andrew Yang said the rapidly expanding technology economy will continue to eliminate certain jobs, including in manufacturing, so the country must change the way it operates. He said those job losses are a big reason Trump won in 2016.
“I’m an entrepreneur and a problem-solver who likes math,” Yang said. “I say that because people have told me the opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”
Yang has proposed a universal basic income: $1,000 per month for every U.S. adult paid for by a tax on companies that benefit from automation.