DES MOINES, Iowa -- Forty-eight hours before Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for president, her two most likely opponents had dinner with seemingly every Iowa Democrat in town.
“Anyone who’s anybody in Iowa who’s not a Republican is here,” said Ryan Crane with a laugh as he and hundreds of other Democrats crowded into a local United Auto Workers hall to attend a Polk County Democrats benefit dinner and get a first look at former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.
Attendees across the board told msnbc that former Secretary of State Clinton is predictably popular, but it's still anyone's game.
“It’s not so much as Hillary has to win us over, it’s that we want to hear from everybody,” explained Heather Matson, a Democratic candidate for the district’s Iowa House seat. It’s a lesson Clinton learned in 2008, when she came in third in the Democratic Caucus, and one she seems keen on fixing: After her Sunday soft-launch, Clinton is expected to head to Iowa to begin the wooing process.
Neither O'Malley nor Webb -- who both sat through a lengthy local Democrats award ceremony -- addressed the Clinton cloud, but Webb advocated for a purer Democratic Party, one that doesn’t bow to special interests or big money. It’s something some Democrats have criticized Clinton for, as she has historically raised huge sums from Wall Street.
Democrats must not become “the more moderate wing of the Republican Party,” Webb argued in a speech that moved back and forth between notes and off-the-cuff remarks. “We will return to the party of Roosevelt and a prudent party that truly looks after everyone that lacks a voice.”
Webb notably argued that Democrats must reclaim issues like criminal justice reform. “This is an issue Democrats should own, but do you know who’s making the most mileage out of this? Rand Paul,” he said incredulously.
O’Malley, however, stuck to lofty rallying cries in a highly rehearsed and read speech. "The American dream is not dead and the American dream will not die because you and I are going to fight for it and make it true again!” he thundered, earning big cheers.
O’Malley touted his achievements as governor of Maryland, including raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable. He got big cheers for voicing support for unions, Wall Street reforms, and gay marriage, but largely shied away from laying out specifics or naming names.