OSKALOOSA – 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang made his first appearance in Oskaloosa on Saturday.
The visit was a part of a tour through southeast Iowa that Yang and his campaign staff went on over the weekend. During the event, Yang took selfies and briefly chatted with his supporters and those that attended the bowling event at Statesmen Lanes (formerly known as Mahaska Bowl.) After two failed attempts at hitting a pin, the presidential hopeful even bowled a spare.
Yang explained why he loves to visit small businesses like the bowling alley.
“I love being in places like bowling alleys because I love small businesses,” he said. “I was an entrepreneur myself, I ran a business, and these are the kinds of businesses that create jobs and opportunities where you live and work. It’s getting harder and harder to run and operate a small business today, and I know that because I’m a numbers guy.”
Yang went on to say that numbers are showing that the rates in which businesses are closing are higher than the rate at which they are opening. Yang said for young people especially, the formation of businesses are lower than they’ve ever been.
As the speech went on, Yang jokingly compared his supporters to United States Senator and fellow 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, when he announced that during the fourth quarter of 2019, his campaign raised over $16 million.
“I’m here before you today rising in the polls become the next president. Zero corporate PAC money raised $16.5 million last quarter in grassroots donations of only $35 each,” he said. “My fans are almost as cheap as Bernie’s, but there are a lot of them. I consider Bernie a friend. Bernie was an inspiration for me. I donated to him in the last campaign, but I used to joke, ‘I’m like the younger, more Asian version of Bernie.’”
Approximately 100 people came from near and far to the bowling event at Statesmen Lanes to hear what Yang had to say. Local resident Jeremy Jorgensen brought his wife and two children out with him to ‘Bowl with Andrew.’ Jorgensen, a supporter of Yang, said Yang’s approachability, compassion, and universal basic income policy has him sold for the most part.
“I think he is our top choice at this point,” Jorgensen said. “His approachability, he has compassion for people less fortunate than himself, he’s a very successful businessman and then UBI is definitely a big selling point to help people that really need that leg up. Not a handout, but a hand up, right?”
While many attendees were supporters of Andrew Yang, not everyone there was sold. Frank and David Drzal flew to Oskaloosa from Connecticut to attend Saturday’s event. Frank Drzal is completely sold on Yang, but his father David isn’t.
David Drzal is a supporter of Bernie Sanders, but because he is proud that his son is finally into politics he wanted to show his support and made sure to attend the event.
“He’s the Yang-ganger, I’m Bernie,” David Drzal said. “I wanted to be supportive of him, because he’s always hated politics and all of a sudden he’s ‘rah, rah politics’, talking politics every day now and debating me all the time.”
The father/son duo weren’t the only ones that traveled to Oskaloosa to hear see and hear what Yang had to say. Disappointed and undecided voter Betsy Pelkington said she drove from Kentucky to hear what Yang had to say, but to her surprise, the event was more of a meet and greet.
“I wanted him to talk more about his Universal Basic Income,” she said. “I guess I’m just a little disappointed because I was kind of intrigued by the idea and I just needed more information about it. Maybe I picked the wrong venue to come to hear him. I think he plans to come back and talk to me about it. I guess I didn’t realize this was going to be more of a meet and greet bowling thing, I thought maybe he’d talk some more.”
Mahaska County Democratic Party Chair Eric Palmer welcomed everyone to the event on Saturday. Palmer said this was the first time that he’s ever been involved in a political event at a bowling alley.
“This is just the first time I’ve ever been involved in a political event in a bowling alley,” Palmer said. “This guy appears, to me, to be just a little different than your average candidate.”
Local resident Richard Sawyer attended the event to see Yang and hear what he had to say. Sawyer also said the fact that Yang chose to take an unconventional approach and host an event at a bowling alley shows that he is aiming to differentiate himself from the other candidates and appeal to people that may not be as engaged.
“He’s obviously trying to be different and trying appeal to people who might not otherwise be engaged, so I understand that completely,” Sawyer said..
Yang’s Iowa Communications Director Yianni Varonis said he chose to have more relaxed settings for his tour through southeast Iowa because he wanted to have the opportunity to have real conversations with residents.
“Andrew Yang is deeply committed to meeting with Iowans where they live, work, and socialize,” he said. “Having real conversations with Oskaloosa’s and Iowa’s residents gives Andrew the best opportunity to listen to them and share how he would rewrite the rules of the 21st-century economy with solutions powerful enough to impact their lives. This includes a $1,000 a month Freedom Dividend for every adult citizen, building a trickle-up economy that puts humanity first.”
With the Iowa Caucus less than a month away, some would say it’s too late in the campaign for candidates to just now make visits to rural areas like Oskaloosa for the first time as most people have already made a decision on who they are voting for.
Yang says otherwise.
“Very few people here in Iowa have honed in on a particular candidate. When I’m going around the state, everyone is still very much figuring out who they will support,” he said. “I’m sure that’s the case in this part of Iowa as well. I need to get out to as many Iowans as possible so they have a sense of me and my vision for the country. How we need to rewrite the rules of the 21st-century economy to work for us and our families. But I’m very confident that many people are still figuring out who they’re going to support in this race is very fluid and it’s changing all the time.”
Yang shared his thoughts on the airstrike President Donald Trump ordered that killed the second most powerful man in Iran, General Qassam Suleimani.
“It was leading us in the wrong direction,” Yang said. “We need to be de-escalating tensions in the region and not escalating violence to disproportionate provocations. As President, I would be investing in diplomacy and let the world know that we will be working with our historic partners and allies, instead of pulling the rug out from under them and acting rationally and unilaterally in a way that elevates tensions.”