DES MOINES, Iowa — Beto O’Rourke and other 2020 Democrats polling in the mid- to low-single-digits are loosening their campaign rhetoric, adopting new policy positions and intensifying attacks on President Trump in hopes of gaining traction.
The former Texas House member’s poll numbers and fundraising fizzled after a strong campaign launch, and an August mass shooting in El Paso that killed 22 people prompted a notable change in his position on guns and new intensity on his attacks on Trump.
“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he said during a September primary debate, despite promising the opposite during his failed 2018 Senate run. O’Rourke’s call to confiscate military-style rifles has become a major theme of his campaign.
O’Rourke also leaned into his assertion that Trump is a white supremacist, frequently repeating the charge on the campaign trail. A page on his website presents his evidence of Donald Trump’s alleged white supremacy.
While O’Rourke’s change in tone and style is most drastic, other candidates have also intensified and shifted tones.
Kamala Harris was once among a top tier of Democratic primary candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But now she hopes embracing her “I’m f—— moving to Iowa” comment that was overheard by a reporter will translate to a surge in support from Iowans. While the California senator saw a bump in the polls after her first Democratic presidential debate when she criticized Joe Biden for working with segregationist senators in the 1970s, her numbers steadily declined over the rest of the summer.
“I don’t know if you guys heard, but I’m planning on moving to Iowa,” Harris said when opening her speech to over 11,000 attendees at the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry on Saturday. She plans to campaign in Iowa every week in October.
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq veteran who still serves in the Hawaii Amy National Guard, compared President Trump to a “pimp” for indicating that he will follow Saudi Arabia’s lead in responding an attack on Iranian oil. “My fellow service members and I, we are not your prostitutes. You are not our pimp,” she said in a video posted to Twitter.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s campaign revealed on Saturday that if he does not raise $1.7 million before the end of this month, he does not think he will have the resources necessary to win the race and will drop out. Booker’s team said that funding struggles public was “radical transparency,” and that his situation is really make-or-break and not an end-of-quarter fundraising gimmick.
Some candidates have seen signs of progress following their statements.
Booker had the best fundraising day of his campaign on Saturday following his warning that he may drop out if he does not amass enough money, raising over $300,000. On Saturday, Gabbard received her third Democratic National Committee-approved qualifying poll for the October debates, and needs one more before Oct. 1 to make the debate stage.
At Saturday’s steak fry in Iowa, O’Rourke, the first of 17 candidates to speak, received a standing ovation and rousing applause after he again said “hell yes” to confiscation of military-style rifles.
But O’Rourke’s message did not resonate with all attendees.
“I think there has to be more of a process,” retired Des Moines resident Nancy Baethke, who has not decided which candidate she will support, said at the steak fry. “I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can buy all of them.”
Harris also has work to do to win over some Iowans.
“I did not appreciate her attacking Biden in the first debate,” said Julia Hagen, another retired Des Moines resident. “That was a turn-off right out of the chute for me.”
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