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Steyer’s town hall struggles to attract an audience

Steyer’s town hall failed to draw enough people to fill Roberts Theatre. Contributed by CNN.
Steyer’s town hall failed to draw enough people to fill Roberts Theatre. Contributed by CNN.

Despite excitement surrounding the CNN town halls hosted on campus this past week, Tom Steyer’s visit failed to turn out enough people to fill Robert’s Theatre, which has a capacity of just 370.

The next night, former Vice President Joe Biden filled every seat, drawing protestors and confrontation regarding his plan for climate change.

Although billionaire businessman Steyer says he is the only candidate who prioritizes climate as his leading issue, several of the students who engaged with Biden on climate, as well as several other students who plan to caucus, are uninterested in Steyer’s campaign.

Though Steyer has spent $60 million of his own money on his campaign, largely on social media and television ads, he is polling at less than one percent nationally, according to RealClearPolitics’ national polling average.

For Sarina Kopf ’22, the decision not to attend Steyer’s town hall was made mostly because she has limited time. Though she signed up for and was given a ticket to the town hall, Kopf said, “I decided not to go because I got the email that I got Joe Biden tickets, and since I have a limited amount of time and I had to be productive, I had to make choices about how I was going to spend my time.”

She said that she does plan to caucus and is still exploring which candidate to support, but she will focus her time on candidates who are higher in the polls. “Just in terms of the same idea of having limited amount of time, limited amount of research that I can and want to do, and unfortunately Tom Steyer does not make the cut,” she said.

Regarding the Iowa caucuses approaching in February and Steyer’s current standing in the polls, Kopf said, “I think while a lot could change in the next—what, 83, 82 days?—that likely things will not shift around that much.”

Peter Barth ’22, one of the students who can be seen standing and chanting during the Biden town hall, said he didn’t attend Steyer’s town hall because he didn’t think Steyer is “going to go far enough that it’s worth the time.”

Though he considers climate change his top priority, Barth said, “In terms of the people that are more concerned about the environment I think there’s a lot more excitement around people like Warren or Bernie than Tom Steyer.”

Barth, like many other students, reported being familiar with Steyer largely through his YouTube ads. “I’m not really inspired. Like the one ad I saw he was just talking about how he was really rich,” he said.

A student who confronted Biden about his climate policy after the town hall, Keir Hichens ’22, did attend Steyer’s town hall. Though he said, “I think he’s smart. I think that there are good things that he’s done,” he also added, “I cannot believe that he looked at the field of like 26 Democratic candidates and thought, ‘I have something that they don’t have that qualifies me for this job.’”

Students such as Barth and Hichens criticized Biden’s climate plan for not acting drastically enough to reduce carbon emissions. His plan would see carbon emissions reduced to net zero by 2050 while candidates that Barth mentioned, Warren and Sanders, produce climate plans that reach net zero emissions by 2030. Tom Steyer’s plan would achieve this by 2045.

However, Steyer told the S&B, “It’s not what we want, it’s how we’re going to get any of it.”

“Look, having a plan on climate that never goes into effect does not matter,” Steyer said, arguing that he is the only candidate planning to declare a state of emergency regarding climate in order to utilize the executive powers of the president. That is true, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

Sean Richardson ’23, who is from Los Angeles but plans to caucus in Iowa, attended both town halls. He said climate was one of his top priorities, and regarding Steyer’s plan to declare a state of emergency he said, “I agree with that a lot. That’s a great approach to bypass Congress. Congress can be very slow to act.”

Though Richardson also said that he was more impressed with Steyer than Biden during the town halls, he pointed out that, “It comes down to electability, I think, a lot in the end, and Joe Biden’s a lot more electable.”

Regardless of low polling numbers or potential lack of interest at Grinnell in his campaign, Steyer has qualified for the November democratic primary debate, and he told the town hall audience that he plans to spend up to another $40 million of his own money on his campaign.

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