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Iowa Students Quiz Democratic Presidential Contenders

  • High school and college students from across central Iowa got multiple opportunities to question Democratic presidential hopefuls at a recent forum at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines.

    Major issues, including gun violence and climate change dominated, and the candidates frequently tailored their responses to be relevant to the young audience.

    When moderator Fez Zafar, student body president at Roosevelt and last year’s moderator of the Council of the Great City Schools’ Town Hall meeting, pressed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet about whether mass shootings could still occur even with gun controls, Bennet complimented the high quality of the questions coming his way.

    Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders“This illustrates perfectly why our political system is such a freaking mess,” Bennet said. “The subtlety and sophistication of your questions, compared to the ones we get on the debate stage, is unbelievable.”

    Entrepreneur Andrew Yang urged the students – about 300 – in the audience to consider caucusing, noting the outsize impact of Iowa caucuses in picking presidential candidates.

    “That is the magic of this state,” Yang said. “this is the only place where democracy actually works. And so if you are in this room, you should really caucus.”

    The other four candidates to appear were Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, entrepreneur Tom Steyer, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania.

    Candidates appeared on stage separately, with Zafar asking his own questions as well as those submitted by audience members.

    Sanders was asked whether there was anything he admired about President Trump. “He gets up at 3 a.m. to tweet,” Sanders answered. “I’m impressed by people who get up at 3 o’clock.”

    After the event, students visited candidate booths and had a chance to register to vote.

    Minh Phan, 18, a high school senior, told the Des Moines Register the event was useful for learning about the candidates and she was impressed by both Sanders and Yang. “When they came in, you got that vibe that they’re people people,” she said.

    The forum was coordinated for students by students, but they hardly did it alone.

    “I want to thank Des Moines Public Schools and the Des Moines Register for amplifying our voices,” said Zafar in both his opening and closing remarks.