CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — It was an unseasonably warm Saturday in February, and people were trickling out of a college gymnasium where Elizabeth Warren was still taking questions.
They weren’t bored by the senator from Massachusetts. They were just hustling to get two miles across town to see former vice president Joe Biden, who was scheduled to speak in a middle school gymnasium just an hour after the beginning of his rival’s event.
Such is life in Iowa in the final hours before the first-in-the-nation caucuses, as Democrats deliver their closing pitches, which all, in their own way, revolve around the question of who can beat President Trump. Really, though, such has been life here for many months, as candidates have crisscrossed the state meeting voters — in living rooms and diners, in barns and basement community centers, and in cavernous school gymnasiums.
The decisions facing Iowans on Monday are the same ones weighing on Democrats, or Democrat-curious Americans, all over the country. But not everyone has the chance to see it unfold in the local gym or a neighbor’s backyard.
That’s where we come in.
We’ve collected full videos of events from the final days of campaigning in Iowa, delivered along with insights from Washington Post reporters who have been covering the contest for more than a year. (We’ll have results for you tonight here.)
During Biden’s final sprint through Iowa, his events usually feature him sandwiched between surrogates who offer a combination of logical, electoral math and memories of some of the worst moments of their lives.
They don’t just ask event attendees to caucus for the former vice president. They also give them instructions about what to say to skeptical friends and neighbors, saying Biden can win swing states and beat Trump.
“If you can win Florida, North Carolina and Virginia and Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio,” he tells voters. “And you can win Texas and Arizona, you know what they do? They swear you in as president of the United States of America.”
But they also talk about his connection with grief, forged by the deaths of his wife and daughter shortly before he entered the Senate in 1972 and that of his son Beau, who died in 2015. Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, speak about losing their granddaughter Ella and how Biden consoled their son. As president, they say, Biden would extend that same understanding and empathy to people who’ve experienced tragedies.
Biden’s emotional appeal to voters starts before he even steps out. His advance staff has started rolling out large-screen TVs to most of his final events in Iowa, playing one of Biden’s final ads, called “Character,” which features a narrator opining on the traits needed to lead America and the free world, set to dramatic music. After the ad plays, Biden walks out as the same music plays, usually to a standing ovation.
Biden sometimes stumbles over words at events, occasionally losing the power of applause lines — and laugh lines — by getting a word wrong. But as his events have been filled with more protesters, he’s also displayed a biting wit, telling a man (apparently part of a comedy duo interrupting candidates) who pressed him for advice on how to get his wife back, “I’m starting to see why your wife left you.”
Biden remains a tactile politician. For many voters, the main event is the rope line, and Biden makes sure to stay until he has greeted every last person. He grips the wrists of people he talks to, his face just an inch or so from theirs. He is an easy hugger, and Biden events are filled with embraces and occasional kisses on the cheek from near strangers.
Big crowds. Boisterous speeches. Marquee bands like Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend. And a small army of surrogates, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Michael Moore.
This is what Bernie Sanders’s final push in Iowa has looked like. The energy surrounding his campaign was evident at the packed coffee shop where Vampire Weekend played a quick acoustic set. It was clear at a crowded Bon Iver concert that Sanders had to join by telephone, since he was in Washington for the impeachment trial.
His closing message is much as it has been from the beginning: a populist call for sweeping liberal policy changes like Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal and an argument that the best way to defeat Trump is to energize the base and bring in new voters.
But it hasn’t been completely smooth. Even as Sanders has sought to underscore his “Not me, us” campaign theme, some of his supporters have spent the closing days launching fierce attacks on fellow Democrats.
Moore has gone after the Democratic National Committee, accusing the party of conspiring against Sanders when it opted to change its debate qualification metrics — a charge the committee forcefully denied. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) booed Hillary Clinton during a campaign event, then hours later expressed regret for her behavior.
While Biden is known for mingling with supporters and Warren has gained a reputation for long photo lines, Sanders tends to be more brief after events — often spending a few minutes shaking hands before leaving for his next event.
Warren has held more than 200 town hall events in roughly 30 states over the past year. They have generally included several reliable components: There’s the stump speech, which focuses on her upbringing in Oklahoma; a lengthy question-and-answer portion; and then a photo line where voters can pose with Warren.
The full photo line has been jettisoned in the past few days (though her dog, Bailey, has been available for photos), but she’s still making an effort to take photos with children who attend her events.
The crowd is mixed: People show up with T-shirts that say “Dream Big, Fight Hard,” her campaign slogan. Other attendees are undecided — that’s by design. Warren’s campaign has pushed the superfans to be out knocking on doors in these final days and is making an effort to put the candidate in front of Iowans who have not yet made up their minds.
Her speech has been fairly consistent throughout the campaign and uses debaters’ tactics to signpost to the audience where she’s heading and emphasize key points. She connects her broader message that there’s too much power concentrated at the top with her upbringing, when she saw her family struggle financially and slowly learned that those troubles were common for many Americans.
Lately, she has taken to reflecting a bit on how the last year has shaped her as a candidate, acknowledging it has been “hard” at times but has made her better. And she has started directly addressing the question of whether a woman can beat Trump, offering the slogan “Women win.”
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., has been a beacon of consistency as he bustled around Iowa in the days before the caucuses. He held 53 events in 21 days entering Sunday, visiting some places three times in three weeks, and he always started his pitch the same way: “Picture the first time the sun comes up on (insert city name) and Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States.”
He follows that by outlining all the troubles the country will be facing in January and explains why some of them are new and unprecedented, requiring a new and unprecedented approach to leadership. Then he argues that he, a 38-year-old with no Beltway tenure, would be a new and unprecedented leader.
Buttigieg’s crowds almost always fill the space allotted — as consistent as the man drawing them. In rural areas, he draws 100 to 200 people. In suburbs, 300 to 500. He recently drew more than 1,000 in Cedar Rapids. He drew 2,000 in Des Moines on Sunday. Those crowds are older, largely white, and politely enthusiastic more than rabid and rowdy. They applaud when he says he can persuade “future former Republicans” to vote for him.
Buttigieg takes a half-dozen questions at every stop. At least one of them usually has to do with healing divisions in American politics. Often, a younger voter asks what he will do about climate change.
Buttigieg is less emotive than most. He doesn’t shout like Sanders or dip into quiet remembrances like Biden. When he addresses larger crowds, he sometimes finishes his pitch by asking voters to spread hope and to support him. Occasionally, he raises his voice, though he rarely approaches a yell. His demeanor and consistency are part of his pitch, which is that he — a gay veteran from the Midwest — is the opposite of Trump in every way.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, in events held as she and three of her Senate colleagues have sprinted back and forth between the impeachment trial and the campaign trail, has worked to emphasize her Midwestern roots to Iowans. She portrays herself as a common-sense Democrat capable of winning in the conservative-leaning areas where Trump has dominated.
In a telephone town hall with Iowans earlier this month, Klobuchar said she could “unite our party” and that unlike others, she “brings the receipts.”
Klobuchar hasn’t typically drawn the crowds that Sanders and Buttigieg have attracted. But she has tried to find creative ways to entice supporters to show up — like the “Hotdish House Party” her daughter recently hosted. She also dispatched an Olympic champion curling coach to campaign at a curling club on her behalf.
On the trail, Klobuchar is fond of sharing personal anecdotes. There’s the story of her grandparents saving money in a coffee can to send her father to a two-year community college. There are frequent introductions in which she tells crowds she is “the daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman.”
“I have not just the head for this but the heart,” she said at a recent event.
Andrew Yang’s campaign is surprising. The surprise is, first and foremost, his own.
The entrepreneur and former tech executive is the only candidate left in the race who has never held elected office and who is not a billionaire. He has achieved remarkable staying power despite those two issues — or perhaps because of them.
“I'm barely a politician,” he told an audience recently in Muscatine. “My wife can vouch for this. If she thought that I was going to run for president when we were dating, she would have run in the other direction."
He laughs. So does the audience.
That’s the other thing about Yang’s appearances in Iowa. They’re funny, and frequently off the cuff, at the same time that they’re deadly serious. His humor stands in stark contrast to the severity of his message, which revolves around the threat posed by automation to the economic and social stability of the country.
“People are not excited about the future that lies ahead,” he said last week in Burlington, enumerating the afflictions facing Americans: “Homelessness, stress, anxiety, mental illness, depression, suicides, drug overdoses."
The solution to these scourges, the candidate posits, begins with giving every adult $1,000 a month, his signature policy, which he calls the “freedom dividend."
The idea delights his online following, known as the “Yang Gang.” It also attracts nods in real life, where the long-shot candidate has grown attached to the first-in-the-nation caucus state. He became choked up in Dubuque last week as he reflected on his travels in the Hawkeye State, saying, “I love Iowa.”