Supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker hold signs outside the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Celebration, June 9, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Supporters for Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker hold signs outside the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Celebration, June 9, 2019, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA - From ballrooms to brew halls and at every diner and city park in between, the campaign for the Democratic nomination for president is underway in Iowa.

The focus of the crowded field of candidates — 24 by last count — is centered on one topic, or rather one person, and echoed across a Hall of Fame gathering of Iowa Democrats in Cedar Rapids from most of those seeking the Democratic nomination.

“Defeating Donald Trump,” former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke told the crowd. It was a similar refrain from each of the candidates in one way or another, and routinely received the greatest amount of applause and cheering during the more than three-hour marathon of 19 campaign speeches delivered by candidates who attended.

Campaign for Democratic Presidential Nomination in Full Swing video player.
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Campaign for Democratic presidential nominee in full swing in Iowa

Center of country

The Midwest state of Iowa — in the center of the country — is at the center of the race for the White House in 2020 as the large field of Democratic candidates descends upon its 99 counties, most of them rural, to try to build momentum and support ahead of nationally televised debates this summer.

Iowa is the first contest in early 2020 where voters choose their preference for the candidate to challenge Trump.

But they first need to win the overall support of Iowa Democrats like Michael Ryan.

Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg walks to his car after attending a rally protesting President Donald Trump's policies outside of the White House in Washington, June 12, 2019.

“I’m ready for someone young and new to take over,” he told VOA during a “Picnic for Pete” event in a Cedar Rapids public park, a different kind of campaign stop for Ryan’s candidate of choice, 37-year-old South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first Democratic presidential candidate who is openly gay.

“He’s young, articulate, fresh and new. And we’ve tried the older guys for too long, and here’s where we are,” Ryan explained.

Former Iowa State Sen. Beverly Hannon, herself a member of the Iowa Democrats Hall of Fame, has a different take.

“When I served in the legislature, I was elected in 1984 to the Democratic caucus in the Iowa Senate, I was the only woman (of) 29 men,” she told VOA. Though she says she is encouraged by the record number of women running for the Democratic nomination this election cycle, her support is behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist.

“I think it’s a scandal that we don’t have universal health care here,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we like Bernie. He’s been talking about it for a long time.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden greets audience members after speaking at Clinton Community College, June 12, 2019, in Clinton, Iowa.

What voters care about

For Cedar Rapids voter Teresa Kyle, the 2020 presidential election is all about one issue: “The $15 minimum wage.”

She believes former vice president Joe Biden, currently the front-runner in early polling, is the best candidate to deliver on the issue.

“He’s fighting for our minimum wage, housing, hopefully,” she told VOA at one of Biden’s campaign stops at a new craft brewery in Iowa City.

While Iowa Democratic Party voters are currently split on who should get the opportunity, most say, in the end, they will support their eventual nominee, and are united in their opposition to Trump.

“I think Donald Trump has been a disaster for the country, and I really fear for what he and the people behind him might do,” Beverly Hannon said.

“I would really like to see us get back to where somebody more respectful is in the White House, that respects the presidency, that works for all the people, that doesn’t call other people names,” said Michael Ryan. “I’d like a sense of decency back in the White House.”

Road to White House

The path to the White House for Democrats runs through Iowa; Feb. 3, 2020, is the current date for voters to choose their nominee at caucus locations statewide.

Whoever ultimately wins could face an uphill battle at ballot boxes in the November 2020 general election in Iowa — traditionally a swing state — but one that Trump and Republicans decidedly won in the 2016 presidential election.
 

Editors Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Pete Buttigieg is the first openly gay US presidential candidate. Republican Fred Karger is credited with being the first openly gay US presidential candidate, running in 2012.