Around 12,000 attendees are expected to show up for burgers and face time with 17 Democratic presidential candidates at the Polk County Democratic Party’s annual steak fry in Iowa. Although 18 candidates were initially expected to attend. Organizers will grill 10,500 steaks for the attendees. They will also have 1,000 vegan burgers — all of it made on 10 grills by 40 grillers. Senator Cory Booker is the only vegan in the presidential race.
Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke kicked off the speeches by talking about his mandatory gun buyback plan, saying he won’t let “PACs, NRA, or even fellow Democrats tell us what is and what is not possible.” He led the crowd in a chant of “hell yes,” his signature comment from the third debate, as he walked off stage.
The event, a fundraiser for the Polk County Democratic Party and one of the biggest remaining opportunities for candidates to flex their organizing muscles in Iowa before the caucuses, came as a number of candidates are facing an uncertain future in the race and shaking up and ramping up their campaigns in an effort to break out of the pack.
With thousands of Iowa Democrats braving ominous gray skies and intermittent rain, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, punctuating a summer-long buildup in Iowa, drew one of the most robust receptions.
Candidates worked to turn out their supporters in force. Of the 12,000 attending, 9,000 of the tickets were provided by the campaigns. Buttigieg’s and Biden’s campaigns competed for turnout, with both turning out well over 1,000.
Part festival, part organizing exercise, the daylong event was quintessentially Iowa, with its roots going back to veteran former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who began the event more than 40 years ago as a House member. The Polk County Democratic Party revived the event after Harkin’s retirement in 2015.
Democrats of all ages and their families enjoyed the traditional steaks — 10,500 were grilled by volunteers — but also had the option to order from a food truck or visit a craft beer tent. There was also artichoke salad and grilled chicken, hardly on the menu during the Harkin days. “The fact of the matter is that that fellow in the White House knows that if we get the nomination we’re gonna beat him like a drum,” Biden said. “So be prepared for every lousy thing that’s coming from him.”