CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — In five-minute chunks of speaking time, nearly 20 Democratic presidential candidates are getting the chance to make their case before hundreds of party leaders at an important testing ground in early-voting Iowa.
Absent from Sunday's event is Joe Biden, who leads in early polling, and that promises to give the gathering the look of an audition for the former vice president's would-be top challengers heading into the summer campaign season in the leadoff 2020 caucus state.
Expected to take the stage for their strictly-enforced time-limited speeches were 19 of 24 Democrats who have joined the race to unseat President Donald Trump.
The high-profile campaign stop event comes in the wake of Biden's reversal Thursday on a key abortion policy position. Biden now supports federal funding for abortion services after opposing it for decades.
That, and other parts of the former Delaware senator's long record, created an opportunity for many abortion-rights supporters to step up their criticism of Biden to an influential audience.
Outside the downtown Cedar Rapids convention center where the hours-long event was to take place, volunteers and supporters of candidates grouped in the early summer heat chanting in a cacophony of shouts that included drums and tambourines as they awaited the candidates to arrive.
Many of the candidates participating have been traveling to Iowa for months and are hoping for a strong showing of supporters outside the convention center in Cedar Rapids, such as Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, in hopes of projecting momentum eight months ahead of the 2020 caucuses.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar took solace in a Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom poll published Saturday that showed her tied for sixth in the historically large field, though only receiving support from two percent of likely caucus attendees.
"I'm happy to be in the top six and ahead of 18 people, and we've got a long campaign ahead of us," Klobuchar told CBS's "Face The Nation."
Biden was favored in the poll, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock played down his under 1% support in the new poll, noting he had only entered the crowded field last month, after the adjournment of his state's legislative session.
"We still have 240 days before Iowans first express their preferences in the caucus," Bullock told CBS. "I think we still have a long way to go before this thing is decided."