DES MOINES, Iowa — Blazing Saddle, a gay bar in the East Village neighborhood of downtown Des Moines, is a great venue for Democratic presidential candidates looking to court LGBTQ community voters.
The popular bar has no problem standing out. Rather than adopt the unassuming and apolitical nature of its neighboring flower shop and restaurants, the outside of the bar is instead adorned with political campaign signs. In one window hangs a large pride flag; in others, there are political campaign signs from Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and even one from local city council candidate Skip Moore.
Of particular interest is the former Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, who visited Blazing Saddle during Des Moines’ Capital Pride celebration in April 2019.
At Blazing Saddle, she visited the bar, guest-bartended, traded dresses with a drag queen, and published an impassioned blog post about her LGBTQ platform. Her actions drew national media attention from both The Atlantic and The New York Post.
“You would be hard-pressed to find other instances where sitting United States senators have gone into queer spaces and so openly embraced the culture,” said Josh Hughes, a school board member from New Virginia, Iowa and Drake University Law School student who attended the event. “Her presence made [the event] special.”
Politically, demonstrating support for the LGBTQ community at a Thursday night drag show is a useful strategy for candidates looking to court the support of the group.
“Blazing Saddle is centrally located and caters to an audience that may not be involved in traditional retail politics. Meeting voters where they are is important, and it was good that Gillibrand came to that space,” said Hughes.
In addition to courting the gay community for votes, visiting a gay bar could be beneficial to candidates who have a shaky history with LGBTQ issues, such as Tulsi Gabbard. Hosting an event at Blazing Saddle or a gay bar like it could go a long way to promote that the congresswoman, who once held homophobic views, now supports LGBTQ rights.
While Gillibrand’s campaign stop at Blazing Saddle was unique, it did not boost her enough in the media to gain a real foothold. Gillibrand dropped out of the 2020 presidential race in late August after failing to qualify for the third Democratic debate.
Despite the departure of Blazing Saddle’s highest elected patron, Hughes believes the bar will remain politically active.
“The Saddle has displayed candidate signs for a number of Democratic presidential candidates,” Hughes said. “The drinks are strong and the music is good– what’s not to love?”