Clinton, Democratic rivals share a stage in Iowa for 1st time

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner, Friday, July 17, 2015, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner, Friday, July 17, 2015, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. AP

For the first time this campaign season, the five Democrats vying for president shared the same stage.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Lincoln Chafee, a former governor and senator from Rhode Island, spoke at the sold-out Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner Friday night in Cedar Rapids.

Instead of attacking one another, they stuck to attacking Republican candidates for president.

“I am never going to let the Republicans rip away the progress we have made,” Clinton said. “They may have some fresh faces but they are the party of the past.”

Clinton singled out three of the most prominent Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Donald Trump, for their views on U.S. workers, abortion and immigration. “Finally someone whose hair is getting more attention than mine,” she cracked about Trump.

Clinton’s speech was one of her most aggressive since she launched her campaign, earning her a standing ovation, sustained applause and chants of “Hill-a-ry.”

Sanders, too, was fiery. He started his speech with his voice raised, denouncing the “disastrous” trade agreement pushed by Barack Obama and the billionaire class.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “This country belongs to us and not a handful of billionaires!”

His supporters repeatedly interrupt him to agree and bang on the tables. “Yeah!”

“No president can bring about the changes that we need in this country unless there is a political revolution,” he said.

Hundreds of Iowa Democrats crowded into the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex to hear the candidates.

The lesser-known candidates were just trying to get noticed. None of them were aggressive in the way Clinton and Sanders were but O’Malley did blast Republicans and big business. “Main Street struggles while Wall Street soars,” he said.

The rivals came on the stage together, introduced in alphabetical order, at the start of the program. They sat at separate tables in the ballroom during the dinner and spoke one at a time.

Before the event, large groups of Clinton and O’Malley supporters gathered outside, chanting and holding signs. Some were paid by Clinton’s campaign and by Generation Forward, a political action committee supporting O’Malley. Many said they were not allowed to speak to the media.

Mama Lynne, a community activist from Des Moines who said she was being paid by Generation Forward, a Super PAC supporting O’Malley, said she is not worried about his low name recognition at this stage. “Others have been down in the polls,” she said.

Clinton remains far ahead in Iowa Democratic polls, but Sanders is gaining.

A Quinnipiac University poll late last month put Clinton ahead, 52 percent to 33 percent. A month earlier, Clinton had a 60-15 lead.

No one else came close last month. Vice President Joe Biden had 7 percent, followed by O’Malley with 3 percent and Webb with 1 percent. Chafee had less than 1 percent.

Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley have all begun organizing staff in Iowa, but Clinton has far surpassed them with offices and staff across the state. Inside, all five candidates except Chafee had tables to set up to sign up volunteers.

Ahead of the dinner, two statewide Democrats announced their support for Clinton: Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. Both were early supporters of Barack Obama in 2007.

“It takes grassroots organizing to be successful in Iowa,” Miller said. “I’m proud to lend my support to Hillary Clinton’s Iowa organizing efforts. Conversations happening in coffee shops, living rooms and field offices about why Hillary Clinton is the champion working families need are going to make the difference on caucus night and put us on the path to victory in November.”

Eager to get their say, the campaigns of the 15 announced Republican candidates held a rally Friday to show they are united to work together to elect a conservative to the White House.

“Our message is clear to Democrats in Iowa and across the nation: The Republican Party is unified and ready to put a Republican back in the White House,” Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, said at the rally. “These campaigns, which are all working to be the next Republican nominee, took the time to be here today in unity. We are the party of innovation and progress, and we will lift up all Americans with a victory in 2016.”

On Saturday, 10 of the Republican candidates are expected to speak in Ames, Iowa, at the 2015 Family Leadership Summit, designed to educate conservatives about the most pressing issues facing America’s families.

David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed.

1 number of times Democratic candidates for president in 2016 have appeared together