Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hugs Netflix’s “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness at a town hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Jan. 26. (Tori King / Gaylord News)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — With snow piles several feet high in the parking lot and a line out the door, hundreds of Iowans wrapped in their winter gear crowded around the entrance to a Cedar Rapids grocery store.

Nearly 900 people packed the store to see Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Sunday night, accompanied by Netflix’s “QueerEye” star Jonathan Van Ness, who spoke about why he supported Warren with her “she has a plan for that” attitude.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Van Ness said he felt like his presence was just an added bonus to the attraction that Warren offered for the event.

“I was just happy to be here and to be able to support in any way I can,” Van Ness said. “Just getting anyone involved in anything to bring out the vote and make sure that Sen. Warren comes home with the nomination — that’s all I’m here for.”

Dale Todd, District 3 Cedar Rapids city councilman and vice president of development at Hatch Development Group, also spoke at the event after formally endorsing Warren on Sunday morning. Todd said he definitely felt the “star power” that Van Ness brought to Monday’s event.

Todd said former Democratic candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was his original choice, but he said he agreed to speak at the event Saturday when he let Warren’s campaign know he was now on board. 

“She has the rare ability of being able to connect with voters,” said Todd. “She’s passionate, she’s great on her feet — she’s a street fighter. Those are the ingredients I like in my candidates.”

Todd said he’d been to candidate events before, like 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s, but he noted that Monday’s was a “perfect event.”

“Look at the people that are still in line (for a selfie),” Todd said, about 40 minutes after Warren concluded her speech. “That says something about the drawing ability of this candidate. It’s got a fly-by-night anomaly. She’s the real deal — she brings to the table a lot of traits that others don’t have. It’s all about peaking at the right time (…) I believe she’s going to be the one that does it.”

Many attendees were drawn in by Van Ness, including 23-year-old Cedar Rapids resident Trey Wentzien, who said it was a “win-win” for him since Warren is already one of his top two for the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. 


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“People should be voting, people should be invested in politics,” Wentzien said. “They should recognize the difference it makes in the world, so I think it’s important to get people involved.”

Coe College student Kasi Rupert, 20, said she had seen Warren previously a few times, but she came to Sunday’s event to see her with Van Ness specifically because she’s passionate about LGBTQ rights.

“I’m also personally glad to see that kind of incentive for the LGBTQ community, because I know that there’s a low percentage of LGBTQ people that are registered to vote currently,” Rupert said. “So I really want to see more voter engagement in the community and getting people out to vote, because I think it’s very important to have our voice represented in politics.”

Madeline Kelley and Megan Pike, both 19 and Cedar Rapids residents, also attended Warren’s rally and said Van Ness’ attendance was an added bonus.

“I feel like a lot of people, especially with how Warren how does her selfie lines, they’re going to come see them just so that they can meet the celebrity,” Pike said. “It’s nice for the candidates because then they also get a chance to share what is actually important to people who might not otherwise listen.”

The event attracted Iowans of all ages. While 51-year-old Marlys Upah of Tama, Iowa, attended with her college-aged daughter, Molly Owens and Hannah Napier — both 12 years old – also attended, primarily to see Van Ness, 

Owens said she’s been somewhat politically active because of her family — as they attended the Women’s March in D.C.

“I’m actually glad I stayed for the entire thing because just Elizabeth Warren seems like a cool person,” Owens said. “To be honest, I didn’t understand all of what she was saying — but she seems confident and like she knows what she’s doing.”

This week, however, Iowans will see much less of Warren as she travels to Washington, D.C., for the President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. Todd said the main issue that motivates many Cedar Rapids residents to support Warren is singular: beating Trump — and that everything else stems from that.

“I don’t necessarily think (being in D.C.) will negatively impact her, because while she’s not in Iowa for the Iowa caucus, she’s in Washington D.C., doing things that are putting her on the news,” Wentzien said. “It’s not a long time, I don’t think it’s going to affect her too terribly (…) her name will be in the news in other ways.”