If you love politics, presidential primary cattle calls — a night of back-to-back speeches by a raft of contenders — are a sheer delight. These events, complete with rooting sections of voters donning their candidate’s brightly colored T-shirts and banging plastic thunder sticks, are what a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” marathon is to movie buffs or a double-header is to baseball fans. For campaign addicts, Iowa’s Liberty and Justice Celebration dinner (previously called the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner) Friday night attended by 13,000 juiced-up Democrats was about as good as it gets.

The Des Moines Register reported: “Friday’s Liberty and Justice Celebration was part presidential politics and part political theater. The theater, which included candidate hype videos plastered across a Jumbotron, light shows from candidates’ supporters in the stands and coordinated sign-waving, was part of the appeal for the gathered Democrats.”

These events are great levelers. The polls don’t matter. The fundraising totals don’t matter. It is just the candidate and the crowd. For three candidates, it might have been their best night of the race.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who had endured a week of staff cuts and closure of three New Hampshire offices to conserve funds for an all-out push in Iowa, signaled she was down but by no means out of the race. Her rhetoric was soaring but focused, her demeanor was sober if not defiant. “To win, we’re going to have to fight for what I know in my heart and in my soul to be true — which is in the beauty and diversity of who we are as a nation, we all have so much more in common than what separates us,” she declared. “And to win, we are going to need a nominee on that stage with Donald Trump who has the ability to go toe to toe with Donald Trump — and Iowa, you are looking at her.”

She fully embraced her experience as a prosecutor, as if to say, “Damn right I locked up bad guys!” while sideswiping Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who has gotten some flack for representing big corporations, a perfectly legal but very off-brand item on her résumé. “I have spent my career as a prosecutor. I’ve only had one client in my entire life, and that has been the people. Unlike other people, unlike others, I have never represented a corporation,” Harris declared. “I have never represented a special interest. I started my career fighting for the people. In fact, the first time I walked into a courtroom, I spoke five words. ‘Kamala Harris, For the People.’”

She hit her stride as she drove home the “Justice is on the ballot” refrain:

I believe that in 2020 justice is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot when, in America, there is a father who is holding down two jobs, trying to figure out how to get through the end of the month — and paying more taxes than the richest 400 families in America. Economic justice is on the ballot.
So I am running for president to pass the largest middle-class tax cut we have had in history. And you want to know how we are going to pay for it? On day one, we’re going to repeal that tax bill the benefits that top one percent and the biggest corporations in America.
When, in America, there is a mother, who is in a parking lot of a hospital afraid to walk through the sliding glass doors to get into the emergency room with her child, because she knows that she — if she walks through the sliding glass doors, she will be out of pocket a $4,000 deductible. Health-care justice is on the ballot.
So I am running for president to make sure there is Medicare for All. Not Medicare for Some.
To care for all. To bring down costs. And to ensure that you also get choice. Because I heard from folks that said, ‘Do not take away my opportunity to have a private plan.’ So you will get a private plan or public plan depending on your choice.
When we are looking at teachers across America, and in Iowa, holding down two or three jobs to get through the end of the month. Education justice is on the ballot.
So I’m running for president to put into place what will be the first in our nation’s history federal investment in closing the teacher pay gap. Here in Iowa, that will be $12,500 per year.
When all over America, women are being attacked for their constitutional right to make decisions about their own bodies. Reproductive justice is on the ballot.

She received a rousing ovation, even from other candidates’ supporters.

In a completely different style, but equally confident and effective, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was no longer the wonder-kid (seven foreign languages! classical pianist!) but a leader looking to beat Trump and then heal the country. "We will fight when we must fight. But I will never allow us to get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point,” Buttigieg said in a not-very-subtle dig at Warren, whose answer to policy criticisms amounts to “I’ll fight!” Buttigieg declared, “The point is what lies on the other side of the fight.” In what may have been the most memorable line of the night, he told the crowd, “We know the purpose of the presidency is not the glorification of the president. It is the unification of the American people.” He wove in stories of individuals, including teens worried about getting shot at school or losing health-care coverage to cover huge bills for juvenile diabetes.

Mixing in references to his own military service and faith, he implicitly knocked down the idea that the party has to choose between boldness and building a winning coalition. “I will not waiver from my commitment to our values or back down from the boldness or our ideas,” he asserted. “But I also will not tire from the effort to include everyone in the future we are trying to build.” In an Obama-like ending, he exhorted the crowd: “Iowa, are you ready to bring this country together? Iowa, are you ready to turn the page to a new era together?” He made a powerful case that he is the younger, more rhetorically adept alternative to former vice president and candidate Joe Biden.

Late in the evening, with the crowd thinning, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) weighed in with her best speech of the campaign, a feisty and down-to-earth appeal to voters who want a non-polarizing candidate who can win. She blasted Trump, stressing the need to not simply beat him but to beat him by a lot. “I believe that we need someone that heads up this ticket that understands that what unites us as a party is so much bigger than what divides us,” she told the crowd. “That understands that we have to bring in our fired up Democratic base, but we also have to bring in Independents and yeah, even a few moderate Republicans. If we want to win big, that is what we are going to have to do, that is what we are going to have to do, my friends.”

She, too, sought to separate herself from coastal progressives. “So I want you to imagine what it will be like to have a candidate on the debate stage that can literally look at this guy and say, you know what, the Midwest is not flyover country,” she declared. “I live here and I will not be treating the workers and the farmers of this country like poker chips in one of your bankrupt casinos because they are my friends and my neighbors. And I will have plans that I can pay for and deadlines that I can make that are grounded in reality.”

The event was a reminder that the Democrats have multiple candidates beyond the top three with the political skill and stage presence to light up a crowd and multiple candidates one could imagine exciting the base and appealing beyond it. Keep in mind that despite money or ideology, more often than not, good candidates beat poor ones. Democrats have a bunch of good ones.

Read more: