WATERLOO, Iowa —With two days left before the Iowa caucuses, two of the top Democratic contenders made closing cases for their pragmatic visions in the same northeastern Iowa town, to similar-sized crowds, in venues separated by a short jaunt down a gravelly access road.
But the content and tone of Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden's pitches, delivered about 8 hours apart, diverged greatly. The 38-year-old former mayor focused on what could be, as the 77-year-old former vice president focused on restoring what was.
On a bright, sunny morning at Electric Ballroom, a line of Buttigieg supporters, most decked out in BOOT-EDGE-EDGE swag, waited to see Buttigieg speak one last time before many here would head into school gyms and community centers to caucus.
Among them was Waterloo resident Maureen O’Connor, 61, a part-time retail worker, who will be caucusing for the first time ever.
“I have so much respect for him for not slamming Trump in his commercials,” she said.
“He reminds me a lot of Kennedy, he’s new young blood who wants to make America great. I respect him so much.”
Supporters here expressed a calm confidence about Buttigieg’s chances on Monday, admitting that no one was sure what was going to happen on caucus night, but were satisfied that their candidate had made the best pitch to get in a winning position.
“I actually feel like you can actually believe in what he says he's going to do is accomplishable,” said David Schmitz, 66, an auto mechanic from La Porte City. “You know, he's not trying to tell people that he’s going to save the world and never be able to produce. He’s someone you can trust and listen to and really believe he’s going to work at doing what he says he’s going to do.”
As Buttigieg began his remarks, he smiled and joked with the crowd, reminding them that when he first came to Waterloo no one knew how to pronounce his name.
Seeking to maximize his relatively short political expertise, Buttigieg frequently drew parallels about how issues facing America’s mayors should inform the highest office in the land on everything from budgets to climate change—but quickly pivoted to how his vision stacked up against the other Democrats in the race.
“We can't afford to get tied up in the politics of the past. And I'm not just talking about the distant past, I'm talking about the recent past,” he said. “I think we've all seen some of the tensions that are emerging. Those who share the same values. But maybe a different approach. I'm here to say, the less 2020 in our party and in our country, the less 2020 resembles 2016, the better.”
“This is a respectful difference of approach among people who share the same values, some share the same goals and must be committed the day we have our nominee to rally around that nominee whoever it is to make sure that we win,” he continued. “I'm also here to make the case about why I'm the nominee you want contending with Donald Trump.”
Eight hours later, at the nearby National Cattle Congress, Biden was focused on the recent past.
For about 40 minutes, he listed the reasons he believed Trump had disqualified himself from office—white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, Virginia, berating generals behind closed doors, dismissing the wounds of American soldiers injured in an Iranian air strike as “headaches”—and raged about the Republican attacks on his family.
But, he said, “No matter how personal attacks are on me, my surviving son and my family as a whole, I can't afford to hold a grudge,” he said. “The president has to not only fight. The next president has to be able to heal. This nation needs healing.”
Biden did get to his record and why he would be the best choice, noting that if universal health care is the goal, “Tell the people what it’s going to cost”—a not very veiled shot at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—before pivoting to his accomplishment on the topic.
“You know, everyone has raised thoughts about healthcare,” he said. “I'm the only one who actually led into law health care reform called Obamacare.”
The rest of his long record he ticked through the last ten minutes of the speech in the same manner—but in less detail—than his list of Trump’s failings, perhaps assuming the crowd there already knew him and his accomplishments.
And for some that was true.
“We saw Buttigieg... see I gotta find somebody that when I look at them and I talk to them something happens I know,” said Linda Powers,73, a retired headhunter/teacher/baker from Waterloo. “That's how it was with Barack Obama, there was no doubt about it. I mean that was magical, right, probably never see that again in my life but it wasn't magical but Joe was good. You could talk to Joe and feel like he cared about you. And I don’t get that with a lot of these people.”
Biden’s connection could be found hours earlier at the Buttigieg event where several voters told The Daily Beast they liked Biden, even supported him in the past, but they felt it was time for a change.
As Buttigieg spoke about the importance of public education, Dawn Boone, 45, a support worker for the Waterloo Community Schools who will be a teacher in fall 2020, waved her rainbow BOOT-EDGE-EDGE sign and cheered.
“Pete is for educators, development, people like me. I was a single parent. My daughters are now 25 and 20 and I'm still working two and three jobs,” she said. “I'm just ready for change, I'm ready to live in a country where I can live happily ever after, like I've worked hard for so long that I should be able to just, like I said, work one job go home and enjoy life and so I feel like Pete will make that happen for us.”
She said Biden would be her second choice.
“I think a lot of Biden. Biden was my next choice,” Boone said. “Just because he's been in office with Obama and so I know I'm in the same beliefs and values. I do agree with.”