The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines Saturday night will serve up more than the entree—it will deliver a healthy platter of national Democratic presidential jockeying.
As Hillary Clinton will come flanked by President Bill Clinton and singer Katy Perry and Bernie Sanders will bring his passionate followers, it could also be Joe Biden’s first public outing as a candidate - if he decides and announces that he will run, that is.
But just five days out, the question of Biden’s presence at the celebrated Iowa event is rampant across Iowa. And the party is open to a late RSVP from the vice president.
“We do not have a deadline,” said Andy McGuire, the Iowa Democratic Party’s chairwoman. “If the vice president wants to come, he’s invited if he’s a candidate for president.”
The party is prepared to give Biden the same 15 to 20 minutes of speaking time allotted to the other Democratic candidates.
The problem, however, is that the party’s big donors and thousands of passionate supporters who attend the party establishment’s annual bash are mostly backing other candidates.
Of the roughly 6,000 total tickets, the party offered each campaign the opportunity to buy an allotment of tickets. Sanders’ campaign says it expects to fill at least one-third of the assemblage.The Clinton campaign will have at least that in attendance. Even more critical is that tickets are "nearly sold out."
And if Biden doesn't make a decision before Saturday, a surrogate won't do. The Iowa Democratic Party is not allowing the super PAC urging Biden to run, Draft Biden, to have a campaign-like presence at the event.
Campaigns use the event to show off their organizational mobilization and strength—as Obama’s campaign did in bringing out 3,000 backers to the Democratic frenzy in 2007, matching the thousands of Clinton backers to descend on Des Moines.
“These are the really engaged and enthusiastic Democrats—many who work long days and nights for candidates and are into Democratic politics,” McGuire said. “When they get in room and get to hear candidates talk back to back to back, it’s electric. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Without a campaign apparatus, Biden's pomp and circumstance will be overshadowed by Clinton and Sanders.
“Supporters and volunteers from across the state are excited to come to Des Moines this weekend to show their support for Hillary Clinton as she hits the JJ stage—and maybe to dance to a Katy Perry song or two,” said Lily Adams, Clinton’s Iowa communications director. “This is a great opportunity for Hillary Clinton to talk straight to Iowa Democrats.”
Sanders’ campaign is kicking off festivities the night prior with a concert in Davenport and setting up watch parties across the state for the senator’s Saturday night address.
“Some campaigns are focusing on organizing in a two-block radius around this big fancy dinner, and we’re looking beyond that and around Iowa to provide opportunities for our young people and working class supporters across the state to take part,” said Robert Becker, the Iowa state director for Sanders.
On Monday, Democratic candidate Jim Webb pulled out of the dinner amid speculation he will seek a third-party run.