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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

At a half-dozen events 2020 candidates held in Iowa over the weekend, attendees barely mentioned President Trump — and not a single person asked about Robert Mueller’s investigation or Russia.

The big picture: Instead, most of the questions were about policies — most often health care, climate and immigration.

  • The attendees at a soup dinner, meet-and-greets, and town halls asked hard-hitting questions about biofuels, money in politics, taxing the wealthy, preventive health care, arts in education, immigration reform, the environment, abolishing the filibuster rule in the Senate, and foreign policy.

Why it matters: Voters are giving the Democrats space to build specific brands based on their own visions and proposals.

  • At least in the first caucus state, the most active Democrats don't seem to be driven by personalities, polls or media portrayals.
  • So the field isn't a big anti-Trump chorus. It's a collection of very different voices — with the real chance for one to break out by rising to the moment.

In a bright-blue, rented Hyundai Tucson, Axios traveled 264 miles and covered six events over three days.

  • The crowds ranged from the 400+ people Sen. Kamala Harris drew at the state Capitol, to an eight-person roundtable Julián Castro held with corn growers in Paulina, Iowa.
  • If people brought up Trump — which happened once at a Castro event and once at a Harris town hall — they simply asked: How are you going to beat him?

On health care, some of the questions were more revealing than the candidates' answers, because they gave a glimpse into what's really plaguing Americans.

  • One woman asked Castro about preventive health care, telling him that when she attended her 45th class reunion recently, she "noticed a lot of people didn’t show up because they were dead. And a lot of the others were very unhealthy."
  • Castro responded: "We need to begin by empowering people to make more healthy choices."

A third candidate, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, relies on a lot of data and numbers, but pushed a message of uniting the country.

  • Recognizing he was in Trump country while speaking with a group of 20 people in Carroll, Iowa, Hickenlooper started by saying: "A lot of what President Trump has done I don’t disagree with." (He then specifically mentioned "renegotiating some of our trade agreements," but said he doesn't like the way Trump handled it.)

Between the lines: All the candidates addressed Iowans’ eagerness to move past the political chaos they feel we’re in. Harris said, to a standing ovation:

  • "This moment will pass. And years from now our children and grandchildren and others will look at us … and they will ask us: 'Where were you?'"

Go deeper:

Go deeper

House passes sweeping election and anti-corruption bill

Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The House voted 220-210Wednesday to pass Democrats' expansive election and anti-corruption bill.

Why it matters: Expanding voting access has been a top priority for Democrats for years, but the House passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1) comes as states across the country consider legislation to rollback voting access in the aftermath of former President Trump's loss.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

House passes George Floyd Justice in Policing Act

Photo: Stephen Maturen via Getty Images

The House voted 220 to 212 on Wednesday evening to pass a policing bill named for George Floyd, the Black man whose death in Minneapolis last year led to nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

Why it matters: The legislation overhauls qualified immunity for police officers, bans chokeholds at the federal level, prohibits no-knock warrants in federal drug cases and outlaws racial profiling.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Republicans plan to exact pain before COVID relief vote

Sen. Ron Johnson. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Republicans are demanding a full, 600-page bill reading — and painful, multi-hour "vote-a-rama" — as Democrats forge ahead with their plan to pass President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

Why it matters: The procedural war is aimed at forcing Democrats to defend several parts the GOP considers unnecessary and partisan. While the process won't substantially impact the final version of the mammoth bill, it'll provide plenty of ammunition for future campaign messaging.

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