-- It has been almost eight years since Iowa Democrats have had to choose their candidate, and tonight will be the first time they get a chance to see all five of the 2016 hopefuls back to back.
“I am excited. It will be our first time together,” former Maryland Gov. O’Malley told ABC News Thursday. “It’s going to be fun.”
Unlike many events of this kind where candidates arrive only for their own speech, the five 2016 contenders will be sitting together, in the same hall, having dinner, according to the Iowa Democratic Party.
With speeches back to back, it will be also be a great opportunity for some of the lesser-known candidates to distinguish themselves.
“What we’re very good at in Iowa is talking to each of the candidates and not making our mind up too soon,” Andy McGuire, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in an interview with ABC News. “I don’t think anybody’s totally made up their minds yet.”
Meanwhile, the candidates are busy campaigning.
Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor who reportedly drove cross-country to Iowa from his home state, told ABC affiliate WOI-TV in Ames-Des Moines that he plans to stay in the race despite his having to pinch pennies.
“I thought there was room for a progressive candidate to talk about the issues with the front-runner Secretary Clinton,” Chafee, 62 and also a former mayor and U.S. senator, told the station.
Sanders, the junior U.S. senator from Vermont, and Clinton will be holding events with veterans this afternoon. (Turns out the events are also in the same building, only an hour and 15 minutes apart.)
O’Malley, 52, spent Thursday talking to immigrant leaders in Des Moines about his proposals for comprehensive immigration overhaul, which he released this week, including plans to provide immediate relief from deportation, with work authorization, to an expanded number of immigrants.
But the topic that will likely dominate tonight’s speeches is the economy. McGuire said Iowa Democrats want to hear a “vision” for how each candidate will help Iowa families.
“How they are going to help with income inequality and an economy that works for everyone and health care and education,” she said.
While Clinton, a former secretary of state and former U.S. senator from New York, tried to distinguish herself from Republicans on the issue this week, Sanders and O’Malley have tried to separate themselves from her, especially when it comes to the banking industry, arguing they would be the toughest on Wall Street.
On the stump, Sanders, 73, calls for the break-up of the nation’s largest banks and ending the “greed” of corporate America. O’Malley this week released a 10-page policy proposal for cracking down on Wall Street, including a promise to “ensure key political appointees are independent of Wall Street.”
Grassroots progressive organizations have been pushing all candidates this week to be as specific as possible, as soon as possible, on who exactly they would appoint to cabinet positions. “We can’t afford four more years under an administration that cozies up to Wall Street and keeps the revolving door spinning away,” chairman Jim Dean of Democracy for America wrote in an email to its supporters this week.
All this is to say, expect lots of billionaire-banking-bashing tonight.
What candidates will likely not do is criticize each other. Sanders and his campaign almost never mention Clinton, 67, by name.
“Since he doesn’t do it, it’s not even something that we think about as being a part of our campaign,” Sanders ‘ Iowa director, Pete D’Alessandro, told ABC News.
The buzz around the Cedar Rapids dinner has even caught the eyes of Republicans. In response to tonight’s event, representatives from 15 Republican campaigns are holding their own rally, just a few hours earlier, to show their committed to electing a Republican president.