Leading Candidates Participate in Brown and Black Forum
DES MOINES, Iowa – Nearly all of the leading Democratic presidential candidates participated in the Brown and Black Forum in downtown Des Moines on Monday.
During the town hall, each candidate was questioned by two moderators for about twenty minutes, followed by two questions from the audience, and a “short answer” round in which candidates had only sixty seconds to answer as many questions as possible. The questions were direct and hard-hitting, and the moderators pressed the candidates when they failed to answer the question directly or pivoted back to their talking points.
The first candidate to take the stage was Sen. Michael Bennet, a relatively unknown candidate who has struggled to improve his name recognition. Bennet laughed when the moderators described him as a “bland white guy.” He also struggled to answer a question from the audience about raising the minimum wage; he instead argued his proposed tax credits would do more to lift people out of poverty than raising the minimum wage.
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg stumbled through questions about policing in his city. Although he appears to be doing well in Iowa, Buttigieg has struggled to gain support from communities of color in states such as South Carolina or Nevada. Black Lives Matter protests have interrupted many of his events around the country, including an event in Des Moines last week. Many of the audience members seemed dissatisfied with the mayor’s answers on policing in South Bend.
Sen. Bernie Sanders was one of the only candidates to engage the studio audience in his answers. When one of the moderators asked if he was “radical,” he went through each of his policy proposals and asked the audience if they thought he was radical. They responded with shouts of “No!” to each of his questions. The senator, known for giving long-winded responses, predictably struggled with the short answer round and said afterward he did not enjoy the rapid questioning.
Former Vice President Joe Biden referenced his former boss, President Barack Obama, several times during his answers. The moderators also pressed Biden on whether he understood what it was like to be a person of color in the United States. A solemn moment came in the lightning round when Biden responded round that his biggest fear was losing a child.
Voters had mixed reviews for Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the last candidate to take the stage. Some said she appeared combative. Others said they were more inclined to support her after the event.
Drake University was one of the sponsors of the event. Drake President Marty Martin addressed the crowd before the event began, thanking the organizers for their work to organize the event and the audience. Also in attendance were a number of elected officials, nonprofit leaders, community organizers and students from Drake, Grand View, and other universities.
The event provided a unique opportunity to question the leading Democratic contenders on issues that are important to communities of color.