The Sport of the JJ Dinner
The atmosphere the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday was an absolute goldmine for sport-commentator cliches: It was “electric”; “you can feel the energy from the stands”; and “just listen to this crowd!” Bottom line: It was loud. The bleacher crowd was split into three sections, two large ones for Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters and a smaller one for the Martin O’Malley contingent. All three candidates spoke, much to the elation and ear-ringing excitement of their supporters.
I’m lucky enough to have gone to and played in my fair share of sporting events, so I wasn’t the only one who noticed a few similarities early in the evening.
This is seriously the most intense environment I've ever been in that didn't involve some sort of sporting event. #IDPJJ
— Annah Backstrom (@AnnahBackstrom) October 25, 2015
This was almost like a rivalry game between Sanders State and Clinton Tech. (For simplicity purposes, O’Malley A&M is going to be rendered a non-factor here. Sorry.)It had the feel of the Mizzou-Kansas football game (RIP, Border War) — the two spirit sections were split down the middle of Hy-Vee Hall, divided and chomping at the bit to see their candidate/team succeed.
I sat on the Sanders side, unsurprisingly around numerous young people who didn’t look old enough to have a beer. Then there were the chants. Oh, were there chants. You had, naturally, “Feel the Bern” and “The Revolution Starts Here … The Revolution Starts Now,” but the most creative one was “Hey-Hey, Ho-Ho, the Oligarchy’s Got To Go!” I compared it to your high school spirit section chanting “You Can’t Do That! … clap, clap clap-clap-clap” when a member of the opposing team is called for a travel. These chants were even led by cheerleaders in Sanders T-shirts, toeing the line between enthusiasm and being kind of scary. One young woman even held a sign reading, “Get Loud.” She must’ve been trying to get onto the JumboTron or something.
Luckily for my ears, Sanders was the first to speak. Here was his faithful’s reaction to his introduction:
In the past two years, I’ve been to several Kansas City Royals playoff games. Before the television network goes live to Kauffman Stadium, an announcer will tell the crowd to start waving its rally towels and be as loud as possible. This was the same thing. Encouraged by the cheerleaders, Bernie’s Backers upped the decibels. Instead of towels, they waved glowsticks on the ends of lanyards that seemed destined to knock off my glasses.
It was a strange phenomenon. Sure, each side’s supporters want their candidate to be the nominee, but at the same time, everyone in the room was a Democrat. I can’t imagine the young Sanders supporter yelling, “Lead by example” at Clinton during her speech will defect and vote for the the Republican nominee if Clinton is indeed the Democratic nominee. That Democratic unity was emphasized early in the program with an introduction of the down-ticket Democrats running for Congress and a plea to support the Democratic nominee, no matter who it might be.
O’Malley spoke after Sanders (and a couple hundred people used that opportunity to use the restroom; poor O’Malley); Clinton really only had her supporters to speak to since the majority of the Sanders bleachers emptied before she spoke. For at least half the crowd she had the garbage-time slot, it was past 10 p.m. and people other than her supporters were tired after almost three hours of the event.
All the supporters Saturday night were like passionate sports fans cheering on their favorite team. The dinner itself was a competition to see who could sway some undecided Democrats, so of course the fans wanted to cheer loud to help make their candidate look well-supported. That’s the thing, though. They were all Democrats. In a way, they’re already on the same team.
Cannon is a senior journalism and political science major from Kansas City. He interned this summer at the oldest continuously published newspaper in the U.S., the Hartford Courant, and he cares too much about the Kansas City Royals. Follow him on Twitter.