Was the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday night a turning point for Barack Obama in Iowa? Or is the media looking too much to the past for the script?
The event was akin to a straw poll (without the vote) in the state, as six of the eight Democratic contenders appeared in a cavernous arena to essentially give glorified versions of their stump speeches. In 2003, the event marked a turning point for John Kerry’s campaign, after he gave a rousing speech that reset his momentum in the state.
Influential Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen declared Obama the winner, calling his oratory skills “excellent.” “The passion he showed should help him close the gap on Hillary Clinton by tipping some undecided caucus-goers his way. His oratory was moving and he successfully contrasted himself with the others – especially Clinton – without being snide or nasty about it.”
Hillary Clinton was in the audience, as were most of the other candidates, but didn’t listen to all of it. From the New York Times, “When Mr. Obama spoke about Mrs. Clinton, the New York senator talked quietly with people at her table. At one point, Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of her campaign, brought over Quincy Jones, the record producer, for an introduction. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Jones embraced as fans snapped pictures, while Mr. Obama continued his implicit attacks on Mrs. Clinton.”
My friend M.E. Sprengelmeyer, who moved to Iowa to cover the campaigns for the Rocky Mountain News, wrote on his Backroads to the White House blog, “It was nearly impossible to avoid comparing Saturday night’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, to a heavyweight title fight. The hype was just as intense. The crowd was every bit as pumped-up and ready to see blood. The stage was set like a boxing ring — with shrubbery. And the combatants came out swinging, knowing that the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual autumn fundraiser has traditionally been an event where contenders make their moves.”
And in the spirit of the J-J dinner, Sprengelmeyer found a post from Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, who calls Obama the “Johnny Mathis of candidates to black voters.” I’ve read J.J.’s post a few times and can’t figure if he’s for Obama or against him.
I’ll be linking a bit more to Backroads as Iowa approaches.
Photo: M.E. Sprengelmeyer.