It’s the dinner that makes history.
The biggest moment yet in the Democratic campaign for President takes place Friday at the Liberty and Justice celebration (formerly the Jefferson Jackson dinner, before the party stopped ignoring those two presidents’ slave-owning legacies.)
This rowdy festival in Iowa is a fabled political moment. Campaigns shell out for hundreds of tickets for supporters. Candidates march through downtown Des Moines to the event, putting on shows of organizing and financial muscle that help handicap the field. In a test of dexterity, nerves and message, each candidate gets about 10 minutes onstage, no notes allowed.
It was here in 2007 that Barack Obama supercharged a slumbering campaign and went on to win Iowa, the nomination and the presidency. Sick looks on the faces of Hillary Clinton’s staff after his soaring address told the story. Four years earlier, John Kerry’s do-or-die speech had launched a comeback that helped him grab both the caucuses and the nomination.
Now the pressure is on Joe Biden to send a jolt through a campaign that threatens to fizzle in Iowa. It might also be a last chance for struggling Kamala Harris, who just slashed her staff. And Iowa favorites Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the rising Pete Buttigieg could land decisive blows by emulating Kerry and Obama.
But hanging over everything is the question that’s beginning to haunt Democrats — do they have anyone who can stand up to the ferocious tactics and financial war chest of President Donald Trump?