DES MOINES — It was the show before the show.
Iowa’s Democrats passed out activist awards Friday night, inducted a newspaperman and a longtime lawmaker into their Hall of Fame, and steeled themselves for today’s state convention.
“This is all about us getting together and it reaffirms why we are Democrats,” said Phyllis Thede, a state representative from Bettendorf and one of an estimated 350 who turned out for the annual Hall of Awards Dinner in downtown Des Moines. “It’s all about camaraderie.”
The dinner, held at Veterans Memorial Hall Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center, brought out the likes of Sen. Tom Harkin, State Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, party chairwoman Sue Dvorsky and a host of party regulars.
Hall of Fame inductee Michael Gartner is a Pulitzer Prize winner, former editor at the Des Moines Register and front page editor of the Washington Post. He read aloud some of the planks of the Republican platform.
“I would be embarrassed to be a Republican in Iowa these days,” he concluded to loud applause.
Iowa Senate President Jack Kibbie, who retired this year, was the other inductee.
The evening’s keynote speaker was imported from the East Coast. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — Harkin got a laugh from the crowd when he referred to him as “our kind of Massachusetts governor” — said President Barack Obama’s message of “we’re all in this together” is “very different from what’s being offered by Governor Romney.”
Patrick, who followed Romney into the state’s top job, criticized Romney for not being engaged in governing, but “looking for the next thing, this.”
“I’ve watched his campaign for governor and his campaign for United States Senate and he is saying he stands for different things today than he stood for then,” Patrick said. “As governor, most folks in Massachusetts will tell you he was lackluster.”
Iowa has six electoral votes at stake and is considered one of 10 likely swing states that could determine the outcome of the presidential election.
Saturday, both Republicans and Democrats will hold their nominating conventions where they elect party representatives and adopt party platforms.