Contenders to be the Democratic nomination for US president in 2020 have taken turns to direct veiled criticism at absent frontrunner Joe Biden at a key party fundraiser.
In five-minute chunks of speaking time, 19 presidential candidates made their case before 1,400 of the most influential Democrats at the blockbuster fundraiser event for the Iowa Democratic Party.
Iowa is the first caucus state in the Democratic Party’s schedule to vote for who will be the candidate to challenge for the White House in 2020.
— Iowa Democrats (@iowademocrats) June 5, 2019
Some candidates chose to nudge the national front-runner Mr Biden, and leader in a new Iowa poll, without naming him.
The sharpest jabs came from senator Bernie Sanders, who painted Mr Biden as too cautious at a time he argued demands stark change.
We're in Dubuque, Iowa, to say to Donald Trump: We will not let you divide us up. We will stand together and transform this country. https://t.co/0aDjcBtlX0
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 9, 2019
Mr Sanders, who trails only Mr Biden in the polls, described a “well-intentioned” candidate pursuing “a middle-ground strategy that antagonises no one, that stands up to nobody and that changes nothing”.
“In my view that approach is not just bad public policy but it is a failed political strategy that I feel could end up with the re-election of Donald Trump,” Mr Sanders said.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose quiet, Midwestern approach and profile as 37-year-old Afghanistan veteran and married gay man has captured some Iowans’ attention, also not so subtly challenged the idea that Mr Biden’s experience made him the best party standard bearer.
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) June 10, 2019
“We’re not going to win by playing it safe or promising a return to normal,” Mr Buttigieg said. “We are where we are because normal broke. … Democrats can no more promise a return to the ’90s than Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the ’50s.”
Mr Biden skipped the Cedar Rapids event, the largest gathering of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to date and what amounted to an afternoon-long political talent show.
Mr Biden is scheduled to return to Iowa on Tuesday, the same day as Mr Trump is scheduled to campaign in western Iowa, setting up the direct comparison between the two that Mr Biden has sought to emphasise.
Mr Biden had also declined to attend the California Democratic Party convention the previous weekend, choosing instead to speak to an important gay rights group in battleground Ohio.
While Mr Biden had awkwardly reversed positions this past week on abortion policy, a Democratic priority, few of his chief critics took aim.
Mr Biden’s campaign first affirmed his support for the decades-old Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions, only to reverse course. It prompted a rebuke from several fellow candidates, especially senator Elizabeth Warren, who is rising in the polls in Iowa.
For me, this fight is personal. From #UniversalChildCare to free public college, I’ve got plans to level the playing field for working families. With @iowademocrats and grassroots supporters across the country, we’ll turn those plans into big, structural change. pic.twitter.com/rRHp0EaHwm
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 10, 2019
But Ms Warren stayed away from the abortion funding debate and instead framed her veiled criticism of Mr Biden through her focus on rooting moneyed interests out of politics.
“I’m not spending my time with high-dollar donors and with corporate lobbyists,” Warren said. “That’s how we build a grassroots movement in America.”
Mr Biden has been holding often twice-weekly, big-dollar fundraisers with groups hosted by wealthy business executives and successful trial lawyers, as he plans to do in Chicago on Wednesday.
A poll published on Saturday showed Mr Biden was favoured in Iowa, followed by Mr Sanders, Ms Warren and Mr Buttigieg.