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Five Candidates, One Stage: Democrats Deliver Their 2016 Pitches


It's called a cattle call, a covey of presidential candidates who give speeches one right after another - the audience, a crowd of party loyalists who have admirable attention spans. The Republicans have already had plenty of cattle calls. Last night, Democrats got their chance. NPR's Tamara Keith was there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Cedar Rapids, Iowa - 1,300 Democrats in a ballroom and, for the first time, all five Democratic candidates were up on the same stage. Former Rhode Island senator and governor, Lincoln Chafee, went first.


LINCOLN CHAFEE: Tonight you will hear from five good candidates with a wide range of passions and experiences. And it's good to be in Iowa.

KEITH: Each candidate got 15 minutes to speak, but Chafee used less than half. Foreign affairs got much of his focus. Chafee voted against the Iraq war and supports the Iran nuclear deal.


CHAFEE: If we're smart with our diplomacy, we can avoid these endless wars and create savings that can be better spent at home.

KEITH: The candidates spoke in alphabetical order, so former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was next. She delivered a variation on what has become her standard stump speech. The only other candidates she mentioned by name were Republicans. Clinton gleefully called Donald Trump the new Republican front-runner.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Finally, a candidate whose hair gets more attention than mine.

KEITH: As Clinton came into her big finish, she brought many in the crowd to their feet.


CLINTON: I am running for everyone who's ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out. I'm running for you. We're going to build an America where we don't leave anyone out or anyone behind.

KEITH: From there, it was on to Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who has struggled to move the needle in most polls.


MARTIN O'MALLEY: My name is Martin O'Malley. I am running for president, and I need your help.

KEITH: O'Malley's campaign seems to be all about pointing out the progressive stands he took before it was politically convenient. Last night, he touted his record as Maryland governor.


O'MALLEY: Driver's licenses for new American immigrants, marriage equality and a ban on assault weapons. And we didn't just talk about it. We actually got it done.

KEITH: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was next.


BERNIE SANDERS: No president, not the best, can bring about the changes we need in this country unless there is a political revolution.

KEITH: And Sanders hopes to lead that revolution. One of the issues he talks about is the cost of college. At his table at the event, Sanders sat with young people whose combined student loan debt is more than a million dollars.


SANDERS: It is insane that people in this room are paying 8, 9, 10 percent interest rates on student debt when you can refinance your home for 2 or 3 percent.

KEITH: For former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, Sanders proved a tough act to follow.


PRES. CAND. JIM WEBB: Bernie, you always fire me up. So I'm here to turn the lights out tonight, folks.

KEITH: Webb's remarks, at times, seemed to be more a recitation of his incredibly diverse resume than a speech meant to inspire.


WEBB: I'm also the only statewide candidate ever elected to office with a union card, two Purple Hearts and three tattoos.

KEITH: Afterwards, several in attendance said they were just excited to have so many great options. That's what people at the Republican cattle call say, too. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.