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How Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Broke Through in Iowa

Seated members of an audience clapping and holding signs with the text "Rights for All" at the ACLU Rights for All campaign launch.
Voters backed candidates who supported Rights for All.
Seated members of an audience clapping and holding signs with the text "Rights for All" at the ACLU Rights for All campaign launch.
Ronald Newman,
Former National Political Director,
Michelle Fraling,
She/Her ,
Skadden Fellow,
ACLU Center for Liberty
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February 10, 2020

Our next president must be committed to protecting and advancing the civil liberties and civil rights guaranteed to all of us in the Constitution, and the current goal for our Rights for All campaign is to educate voters on where the candidates stand on these key issues. We now have most of the results from the Iowa caucuses last week, and one thing stood out to us: Voters overwhelmingly supported candidates who made specific commitments to Rights for All policies. When we launched the Rights for All effort last year, we were determined to elevate key civil liberties issues in the presidential campaign. For the first time, the ACLU invested in grassroots organizing in the early primary and caucus states to directly engage with candidates by asking them to commit to specific policies that advance civil liberties and civil rights. Over 1,000 volunteers did exactly that. Candidate campaigns, members of the press, and others have repeatedly noted how impressive and omnipresent our volunteers are. In event after event, month after month, our volunteers got candidates on the record about their positions on immigrant justice, reproductive freedom, criminal justice reform, and voting rights. We were able to make real progress on moving the candidates and the conversation on these issues, and Iowa became a pivotal part of that work. It was in Iowa where Bernie Sanders committed to voting rights for all and thrust voting rights to the center of the race. It was in Iowa, where Elizabeth Warren gave the clear, direct, unequivocal commitment to end the Hyde Amendment, which denies Medicaid coverage for abortion, that we need from every candidate running for the highest office.After gaining these commitments and many others, our volunteers have worked hard to ensure voters knew where candidates stood. From canvasses across the state to mailers sent directly to voters to newspaper ads comparing the candidates, the ACLU used all the tools in our toolbox to keep civil liberties and civil rights top of mind heading into the caucuses. And this week, we found out our hard work paid off. The vast majority of voters supported candidates who made the strongest commitments to advance civil liberties. Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren finished as the top three in Iowa, and all have committed to cutting federal incarceration levels by 50 percent, minimizing the use of deadly force by police through federal guidance, and ending the use of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers.

All three candidates answered YES to more than 75% of the questions on the Rights for All questionnaire.

All across Iowa, we were able to talk to voters to explain how the next president can lead on these issues. As we look toward New Hampshire this week, where issues like transgender rights and criminal justice reform broke through from our volunteers’ questions, we will continue to educate voters until the moment voting starts.

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