CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Joe Biden was not in the banquet hall for the Iowa Democratic Party's blockbuster fundraiser on Sunday where 19 of his party's presidential candidates spoke. But he was present in the veiled criticism from several of his rivals.
In five-minute chunks of speaking time, the candidates got the chance to make their case before 1,400 of the most influential Democrats in the leadoff caucus state. Some chose to nudge the national front-runner, and leader in a new Iowa poll, without naming him.
Chief among them was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who said the "same old politics will not" defeat President Donald Trump.
In his speech, Sanders noted a "well-intentioned" candidate who thinks "the best way forward is a middle-ground strategy that antagonizes no one, that stands up to nobody and that changes nothing." He called it a "failed political strategy" that could lead to the re-election of Trump.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker took a swipe at Biden on abortion, describing it as a health care right to be protected.
Last week, Biden's campaign first affirmed his support for the decades-old Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions, only to reverse course. It prompted a rebuke from several fellow candidates, especially Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is rising in the polls in Iowa.
And yet, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who last week called herself "absolutely opposed" to maintaining the Hyde Amendment, came nowhere near criticizing Biden on abortion on Sunday.
Nor did Warren, who criticized Biden last week. But she made a veiled reference to the fundraisers he's holding with corporate leaders and trial lawyers around the country.
"I'm not spending my time with high-dollar donors and with corporate lobbyists," Warren said. "That's how we build a grassroots movement in America."
The hours-long forum was akin to a rapid-fire, political talent show as candidates tried to demonstrate early support eight months before the Iowa caucuses kick off the primary voting season next year. Many of the participating candidates have been traveling to Iowa for months.
A Des Moines Register-CNN-Mediacom poll published Saturday showed Biden favored in the race, followed by Sanders, Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
In the convention-like environment, there was plenty of swag from the candidates to grab the attention of the attendees.
Booker's campaign outfitted its tables of supporters with light-up campaign signs, which they waved in the air to show off one of the biggest crowds in the ballroom as Booker spoke.
Harris' campaign gave its attendees glowing yellow foam sticks with the word "fearless" emblazoned on the side, and Warren's campaign had a sugar cookie stamped with the word "persist" at each table setting.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a successful brew-pub entrepreneur, gave his supporters beer koozies, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's campaign laid out her book for her supporters to take home.