INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (Reuters) – U.S. presidential contender Joe Biden and two Democratic rivals marched on Thursday in the same 4th of July parade in Iowa, a small-town scene in sharp contrast with Republican President Donald Trump’s plan to speak at Washington’s Lincoln Memorial accompanied by battle tanks and military flyovers.
Barbecue and marching bands mixed with presidential politics during Independence Day celebrations in the Midwestern farming state that in seven months kicks off the Democratic presidential nominating race to challenge Trump in the November 2020 election.
Cheering crowds lined up five or six deep along the streets to greet former vice president Biden, former congressman Beto O’Rourke and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as they marched in the annual holiday parade in the aptly named town of Independence, population 6,000. At least four other White House candidates blanketed events across the state.
In Washington, Trump planned to preside over celebrations with a speech about patriotism and a show of military might that critics decried as politicizing an important holiday and wasting taxpayer money.
In Independence, Biden, 76, and a leader in opinion polls, dashed back and forth along the parade route to greet the crowd, occasionally hailing an old friend or making a beeline to shake hands when he saw a veteran wearing a military cap.
He repeatedly held up the parade as he worked the crowd, before breaking into a sprint to catch up.
“How are you guys? Happy 4th of July,” Biden said over and over. He paused to greet a man in the crowd wearing a New York Yankees baseball hat.
“They let you wear that here?” he said.
Residents said they had begun to stake out their positions along the route with blankets and chairs on Wednesday night.
“I’m just here for the parade,” said Matt Kluesner, 35, a Cedar Falls bank manager, who said he didn’t really follow politics. “But it’s nice to see the candidates in person.”
O’Rourke and de Blasio followed behind Biden in the parade. O’Rourke marched with several dozen chanting supporters. De Blasio marched with a handful of supporters carrying signs.
Elsewhere in Iowa, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders was attending five holiday parades in a 24-hour stretch. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, marched in the Storm Lake, Iowa, parade.
Some candidates found other ways to celebrate. Montana Governor Steve Bullock was running in a 5K race, O’Rourke and Biden planned to attend an evening minor league baseball game, and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California was hosting a barbecue in Council Bluffs.
The candidates in the historically large field of 25 Democrats hope a win in Iowa can jump-start a run to the White House.
Democrats visited other early voting states too. U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Representative Tulsi Gabbard and former Representative John Delaney, were scheduled to attend celebrations in New Hampshire, which follows Iowa in the state-by-state nomination fight.
Biden’s lead in opinion polls has dwindled since last week’s back-to-back presidential debates, when Harris challenged the former senator from Delaware on race. But Biden stickers and signs were prominent along the parade route.
“I like everything he believes in. He speaks from the heart, and he’s the real deal,” said Becky Shoop, 62, an auditor in nearby Linn County, adding the debate exchange with Harris did not influence her opinion.
“Once I’m on board with someone, I don’t change my mind,” she said.