It was a snowy weekend in Des Moines and the Asian & Latino Coalition had just hosted California Sen. Kamala Harris at the state Capitol on Saturday before turning around to hold an event the next day for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Though the Iowa caucuses are nearly a year away, politicians eyeing the White House have been swarming the state for months — and nearly all of them have met with the Asian & Latino Coalition in some capacity.
It’s a pace the group worries may not be sustainable through Caucus Day.
“We’ve got to handle this differently,” said Mitch Henry, the group’s communications director and co-founder. “I mean, it’s OK if you have five and 10 candidates, but when you’re approaching 20 — we don’t have the people power, the resources to continually do this week in and week out. We just can’t.”
Iowans prize and fiercely defend their role of hosting the nation’s first presidential caucuses, but some political activists admit this year’s massive field of candidates is forcing them to rethink both the pace and settings of those candidate events.
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Already, 14 Democrats have declared they are running for president with several others seriously considering a run. Together, they’ve scheduled more than 200 public appearances in Iowa since the start of the year.
That more than doubles the total number of events candidates scheduled in Iowa during the same time frame in the lead up to the 2012 and 2016 presidential caucus cycles. According to Des Moines Register tracking data, candidates only scheduled about 90 events during the months of January, February and March in both 2011 and 2015.
“I think we’re getting a little fatigued,” Henry said. “I think there are definitely other groups out there getting fatigued.”
Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats, said having candidates attend events for the local party is an invaluable resource that helps raise money and draw attention to key issues and local races.
But unlike in past years, the party is reluctant to invite all of the candidates to some of its bigger events.
In part, that’s because he’s worried they’ll all show up.
Putting on an event with a dozen or more speakers takes manpower and organization that can be draining for a group run by volunteers, he said.
“It takes about 150 volunteers to run the Steak Fry,” the party’s signature cattle call event, he said. “This year, we’re looking to bring on 300 volunteers. We know the steak order will be much bigger, but the logistics of the fencing, the security, the check-in will be much bigger, too.”
Bagniewski said the party worried that inviting only a handful of candidates to speak at those events could stoke concerns of favoritism. So, in the end, they opted not to invite presidential candidates to two of its upcoming annual events.
“So we were talking to Stacey Abrams about the spring dinner, and then I saw the headline that she’s thinking about running for president,” Bagniewski said laughing.
In Waterloo, a barrage of candidates descended on Senate District 30 to help boost Democrat Eric Giddens, who was just elected to the state Senate in a special election there.
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Jacob Becklund, who worked to elect Giddens as director of the Iowa Senate Majority Fund, said the team added staff and resources on the ground there, in part to accommodate all the extra attention.
“Our view is that it’s nothing but a good thing to get people more aware and engaged in a special election,” he said.
In one weekend, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney all rallied or canvassed on behalf of Giddens. Others, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and businessman Andrew Yang also have stopped by to lend a hand.
In Sioux City, the local Democratic party has been especially active, scheduling events for seven candidates and potential candidates since the start of the year.
“There will be nothing for five days and then you get 10 calls (from campaigns) in a day,” said Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Dumkrieger. “It’s more fun for me than it is a burden.”
Many groups, including the Woodbury Democrats, are putting together candidate events on short notice.
Dumkrieger said his organization was contacted on a Thursday evening about hosting a Saturday event for de Blasio. The group put together an audience of 25 people to listen to the New York City mayor — who has yet to say whether he’ll actually run for president — in the midst of a blizzard.
Later this week, the party has events scheduled for both Klobuchar and Ohio U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan on the same day.
“We haven’t had an event for, like, a week now — so that’s great,” Dumkrieger joked. “But, no, I think we’re doing good. We can handle it.”