DES MOINES, Iowa — A parade of Democratic presidential hopefuls descended on a LGBT pride festival Saturday, bringing the spectacle of a crowded 23-candidate field to life.
A few hundred attendees gathered in a courtyard near the Iowa State Capitol building to hear eight candidates express support for LGBT rights, a stark contrast from the 2015 cycle, in which only former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley attended.
“I will make sure that this country does not just tolerate or respect our differences, but that we fully embrace them as the foundation to our strength and our success and our security,” former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke said in his speech. “That’s the inspiration that I take from you.”
Members of the media and attendees hoping to snap a selfie with the presidential hopefuls surrounded the candidates as they left the stage, while campaign aides tried to manage the spontaneous hoards.
The crowd dwindled significantly when a mass of people followed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the third of eight candidates to speak, out of the courtyard as former Maryland Rep. John Delaney took the stage. By the time Washington Gov. Jay Inslee spoke, only a few dozen people remained.
Travis Misurell, 33, a Sanders supporter who works in operations at a small company, is worried that the Democratic National Committee will skew the rules against Sanders. He told the Washington Examiner that he would consider voting for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but “Biden, never. Beto O’Rourke, never.” He agreed, though, that most people in the LGBT community are excited about Buttigieg, who is gay.
As the race starts to heat up ahead of the first round of Democratic National Committee debates at the end of this month, the nearly two dozen candidates are starting to run into each other at cattle call events, such as the pride festival in Des Moines.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper crossed paths with author and spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson at a pre-pride festival tailgate event. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney talked to O’Rourke in the courtyard.
On his way to the pride festival stage, Washington Gov. Inslee yelled at Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who was speaking to reporters: “Get ‘em, Congressman Ryan!”
“You did a great job, Governor!” Ryan replied. Inslee and Ryan were roommates in Washington, D.C., some years ago when Inslee served in the House.
At a campaign stop before the pride festival, Buttigieg joked that there are so many candidates running, “we might as well carpool.”
“You would be surprised how often we are in dialogue with each other,” the mayor said. “And as these cattle calls pick up we are going to get to know each other better and better.”
Jonathan Buehrer, a 24-year-old student, expressed concern about the Democratic field being so large.
“If Democrats don’t get it all together, we could just end up with another Trump, and it’s terrifying,” Buehrer, who is interested in spiritual adviser Marianne Williamson, told the Washington Examiner. “But if we don’t have our diversity in options, we don’t have a democracy, so it’s kind of a love-hate relationship.”
Dueling unofficial merchandise booths in support of Sanders and Buttigieg were set up on opposite sides of the courtyard. The campaigns for Sen. Kamala Harris and Williamson had neighboring booths on the street festival about a block away from where the candidates spoke, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign also had a booth. Campaign volunteers handed out stickers and solicited support from attendees.
The sun baked attendees on the 85-degree day. When a young woman in the front row listening to the candidates fainted, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, wearing a rainbow Iowa pride shirt and a floral temporary tattoo on her arm, stopped her speech and rushed to her aid, calling paramedics to help.
The Des Moines pride festival was a warm-up for the main draw this weekend. Nineteen candidates are scheduled to grace the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Award Dinner on Sunday — though former Vice President Joe Biden will not be there because of a prior commitment to attend his granddaughter’s high school graduation.
Despite holding fewer campaign events than his primary rivals, Biden continues to lead in the polls. A CNN/Des Moines Register poll of likely Democratic Iowa Caucus voters released Saturday found Biden with 24% support, Sanders with 16%, Warren with 15%, Buttigieg at 14%, and Harris at 7%.