This weekend in Iowa I saw each of the four frontrunners for the Democratic nomination speak, and they all had a distinct speaking persona that I could see them fitting into.
The first event was a rally at an elementary school for Pete Buttigieg. He gave his speech to the modest-sized crowd of about 200 people with all the earnest energy of a ninth-grader running for student council. He was sincere and he believed in himself and really wanted to do the best he could in his speech. He delivered his message in a very rehearsed manner that made him sound like he knew what he was talking about but also made him seem a bit stiff. His message was a general one of hope and how he is the best candidate. This approach might have to do with his status as a relatively unknown candidate. His message benefited from keeping it broad and making people feel comfortable by telling them how responsible he is going to be as president.
The next candidate I saw was Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a conference center in Davenport, Iowa. She was speaking in a much larger room and there were about 100 more people and several more media outlets. First on stage was Julian Castro, former secretary of housing and urban development, who was as much the opening act as one can be. Castro looked like he would rather be doing anything else the moment he stepped off stage, evidenced by the fact he was looking at his phone. Warren then took the stage and had so much energy and enthusiasm behind everything she said. She worked the crowd and the crowd was into it as they started adding their own comments to everything she said. There were people shouting things out and she felt like a stand-up comedian. It seemed like any moment she could break out into a tight five minutes about airplane food. This energy was useful as she delved deeper into her plans and goals for her campaign. Talking about healthcare or the environment can be very dry, but the energy she brought to this portion of her speech brought it to a level of laughs and cheers.
Then I went to see Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa City, Iowa, at a polling center. He came into the room and people were chanting his name. The energy in the room was very similar to the one in Warren’s rally. Sanders, however, used this energy differently. Instead of working with the crowd he worked at the crowd. He was challenging himself to tell funnier jokes and get bigger reactions. His microphone cut out and he made a joke about that, someone mentioned Trump and he made another joke. He kept on making promises and telling us about things we could look forward to. It felt like at any second he was going to tell us to look underneath our chairs for a prize, which would be appropriate given Bernie’s plans for free tuition and healthcare.
Finally, I went to a former Vice President Joe Biden rally at a middle school in Des Moines, Iowa. He was very angry and bitter when presenting his arguments. Biden attacked President Donald Trump more than anything and gave very little policy answers. He never backed down and at times reminded me of a football coach desperately yelling at his team to get back into the game. There was clear desperation in his speech and a sense of this campaign being his last chance. The people rallied to this rhetoric but the room felt almost as desperate as he did.
After seeing the four frontrunners, I was most impressed with the performances of Warren and Sanders. They packed a punch that Pete did not have and brought positive policy solutions where Biden did not. However, one could side with any of these personas. Monday will tell which one prevails, but as it stands right now the Democratic nomination is down to the student, the comedian, the host and the coach.