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Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Head To Iowa For Liberty And Justice Celebration

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Iowa caucuses are less than a hundred days away. It's the first contest of the 2020 election cycle. And tonight is a really important night for the candidates to show whether they have got what it takes to win. There have been pep rallies and parades all around Des Moines as candidates converge on a big sports arena for the Liberty and Justice Celebration. It's a major Iowa Democratic fundraiser. Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez kicked off the night.

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TOM PEREZ: We are one family, one team - one family, one team. And we have one year to defeat the worst president in the history of our country.

CHANG: All right. NPR's Asma Khalid is at the event in Des Moines and joins us now.

Hey, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So it is a big night for Democrats in Iowa. Before we get into the feeling on the ground there, I guess we should talk about the big news tonight. Beto O'Rourke dropped out, right?

KHALID: That's right. He announced that he's going to be ending his campaign. Essentially, he said that he just saw that it was untenable. And he thought it would be best for the party and best for the country for him to end his campaign. What I will say, Ailsa, is this did come as a surprise and a shock to some of his supporters. You know, there were some people who were in tears at his rally earlier this evening, where he spoke. There were people just collecting yard signs outside of this arena where they thought he was going to speak tonight. But, Ailsa, beyond his announcement, I will say at this point in Iowa, the most recent polls show a kind of muddled field. You've got a top tier of candidates between Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden. And so tonight, where all of them will be speaking, it's a chance for them to kind of show themselves as being unique from the field. A lot of people remember that this event was kind of a huge moment for Barack Obama in 2007. And some of these candidates here - they know that. They're trying to have that distinct moment as well.

CHANG: Now, Joe Biden had been the clear frontrunner in the race. That is no longer the case, at least in Iowa. I know that you were out with him over the last couple days. What have you seen?

KHALID: You're right. He started this race with some clear name recognition. But here in Iowa, you know, sort of - when I go to his events and - I've been to a number of them now, at this point. But in Iowa, you get the sense that a lot of people are still uncertain who they're going to support. There are people in the crowd who are certainly diehard Joe Biden supporters. They like that he has foreign policy experience. They like that he was Barack Obama's vice president. But beyond that, you know, I will say you do get a sense that some people are still shopping around. You know, Joe Biden has certainly made a point of highlighting the fact that it's going to take somebody who has knowledge and experience. And that's a point he brought up tonight here at the Liberty and Justice dinner.

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JOE BIDEN: It's going to require a president on day one who can unite the country, who has experience in being able to put together major initiatives to bring the country together.

KHALID: And, Ailsa, what I will say is that when I go to his events, a lot of people do think that experience is important. But one of the main questions I hear from them is about age and relevancy. And for, you know, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend who's presenting himself as kind of a moderate candidate - he's tried to present a different vision, and he did that tonight.

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PETE BUTTIGIEG: But I didn't just come here to end the era of Donald Trump. I'm here to launch the era that must come next.

CHANG: That's NPR's Asma Khalid in Des Moines, Iowa.

Thanks, Asma. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.