The Songs 2020 Democratic Candidates Walk Out On Stage To Reveal So Much About Them

by Morgan Brinlee
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More than half of the Democratic Party's crowded roster of 2020 presidential candidates descended on Cedar Rapids, Iowa, over the weekend to appeal to voters as part of the Iowa Democratic Party's 2019 Hall of Fame event. But while the White House hopefuls sought to woo voters with campaign messaging, it was the 2020 Democratic candidates' song choices that really captured folks' attention.

According to CBS News, 19 of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls showed up in Iowa over the weekend to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event. However, along with speeches about policy and American values, each candidate brought with them one piece of music to be played as they walked out to address voters. These so-called "walkout songs" gave those in attendance a glimpse into candidates' attitudes, lives, priorities, and campaign messaging.

Time magazine reporter Lissandra Villa shared the candidates' song choices on Twitter, noting that it was the candidates, and not the Iowa Democratic Party, who chose the music. "Here is the walk-out song playlist for the candidates at the Iowa Democrats Hall of Fame campaign yesterday," Villa tweeted. "The songs were chosen by the campaigns."

From optimistic feel-good tunes to political anthems, and from rappers to British punk rockers, it was a mix of melodies in Iowa. Here's what song each 2020 Democratic candidate walked out to:

Sen. Michael Bennet — Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising"

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"The Rising" is the title track on an album Bruce Springsteen wrote as a response to the September 11 terror attacks, according to Salon. Springsteen told Nightline the song had been inspired by the image of firefighters and other emergency workers ascending into the smoky buildings of the World Trade Center. Like many of Springsteen's older tunes, "The Rising" is a patriotic tune about America, which may explain Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet's use of it over the weekend in Iowa.

Sen. Cory Booker — Bill Withers' "Lovely Day"

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Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" is no doubt a song infused with positivity. In fact, "It's gonna be a lovely day" is repeated multiple times throughout. It served as an optimistic campaign anthem for Sen. Cory Booker, who played it as he walked on stage at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame over the weekend.

Gov. Steve Bullock — John Mellencamp's "Small Town"

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock likely sought to connect with rural voters through John Mellencamp's "Small Town." In it, the heartland crooner sings about living and dying in a small town with lyrics like, "No I cannot forget where it is that I come from/ I cannot forget the people who love me" and "I've seen it all in a small town/ Had myself a ball in a small town."

Mayor Pete Buttigieg — Batchelor's "Never Giving Up"

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It was Batchelor's optimistic song "Never Giving Up" that played as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg took the stage in Iowa this weekend. As its name implies, the song is an I'm-never-going-to-give-up anthem with lines like, "I'm still here, homie/ I ain't going anywhere" and "I'm here to prove them all wrong."

Mayor Bill de Blasio — The Clash's "Rudie Can't Fail"

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The 2020 presidential election is resulting in some serious air time for The Clash, an English punk rock band that injected much of their music with left-wing, anti-capitalist sentiments. In an interview on CNN's New Day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outed himself as a fan of not only The Clash and reggae but also ska.

Enter The Clash's ska-infused hit "Rudie Can't Fail." De Blasio's campaign played the song as he took the stage at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame.

John Delaney — Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere"

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It's not immediately clear why former Maryland Rep. John Delaney chose Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere" as his intro music at the Iowa event. Perhaps he was hoping the song, which features lyrics like, "I've been everywhere, man/ Crossed the desert's bare, man/ I've breathed the mountain air, man/ Of travel I've a'had my share, man," would highlight his political experience? Or perhaps he's just a Johnny Cash fan?

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

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With lines like, "I told you you could always count on me darling/ From that day on, I made a vow/ I'll be there when you want me/ Some way, some how," Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is a classic song about loyalty and devotion. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard may have hoped that, as a campaign anthem, it would invoke determination and persistence.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — Lizzo's "Good As Hell"

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While campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand attempted to sing the lyrics to "Good as Hell" when asked by a young girl what her favorite Lizzo song was. In the end, however, the senator got the lyrics wrong, resulting in a cringe-worthy campaign fumble. Perhaps then, Gillibrand's decision to walk out to the tune at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event was the senator looking for redemption? Or maybe, Gillibrand is simply looking to quite literally tell voters to, "Boss up and change your life/ You can have it all, no sacrifice/ I know he did you wrong, we can make it right."

Sen. Kamala Harris — Mary J. Blige's "Work That"

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California Sen. Kamala Harris has been playing Mary J. Blige's "Work That" at her rallies since she announced her presidency earlier this year. With lines like, "Read the book of my life/ And see I've overcome it" and "Work that/ Girl don't hold back/ You just be yourself," it's an optimistic anthem for Harris' campaign.

John Hickenlooper — OneRepublic's "Good Life"

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John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, opted to be introduced with music made by some fellow Coloradans. OneRepublic's "Good Life" played as he took the stage over the weekend. The band hails from Colorado Springs, according to The Colorado Springs Independent.

Gov. Jay Inslee — Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky"

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee opted to walk out to Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky," a bouncing and uplifting tune with a bit of a funky beat. With lyrics like, "Sun is shinin' in the sky/ There ain't a cloud in sight/ It's stopped rainin' everybody's in a play/ And don't you know/ It's a beautiful new day, hey hey," the song is a positive, feel good anthem for Inslee.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar — Dessa's "The Bullpen"

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One of Sen. Amy Klobuchar's 2020 slogans is, "Amy won't back down." What's more, the Minnesota senator has continually said she's "tough." Perhaps that's why Dessa's "The Bullpen" — featuring lyrics like "It's been assumed I'm soft or irrelevant/ 'Cause I refuse to down play my intelligence" and "'Cause I found this here ladder/ Now your ceilings don't matter/ Check me out/ Now I got glass floors" — appealed to Klobuchar? Another plus? Dessa's a Minnesota native.

Beto O'Rourke — The Clash's "Clampdown"

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By his own admission, Beto O'Rourke has a long history with punk music and The Clash, in particular. In 2018, he told Rolling Stone magazine that he'd fallen in love with punk after hearing The Clash's London Calling album in eighth grade. He later casually referenced the band's song "Clampdown" during a midterm debate with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

"I want to make sure that, again, we're not giving away to corporations or special interests," O'Rourke said, per Spin. "That's what Senator Cruz would do thanks to the contributions that he's received from those political action committees. He's working for the clampdown and the corporations and the special interests."

Rep. Tim Ryan — Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road"

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In choosing Lil Nas X's popular hit "Old Town Road," Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan may have been looking to show voters that he's aware of what's popular while also appealing to those living in rural areas. Either way, it probably wasn't the song's "My life is a movie/ Bull ridin' and boobies/ Cowboy hat from Gucci/ Wrangler on my booty" lyrics that drew the Ohio congressman to the song.

Sen. Bernie Sanders — John Lennon's "Power To The People"

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Sen. Bernie Sanders' use of John Lennon's "Power to the People" is fairly straightforward, given how he's framed both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns around a message of revolution.

Rep. Eric Swalwell — Rodney Atkins' "Caught Up In The Country"

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California Rep. Eric Swalwell reportedly opted to walk onstage in Iowa to a country hit, Rodney Atkins' "Caught up in the Country." Although largely raised in California's East Bay, Swalwell was actually born in Sac City, Iowa, a town with a population just over 2,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In choosing Atkins' "Caught up in the Country," Swalwell may have been attempting to highlight his rural Iowa roots. The song has lyrics such as "Caught up in the country/ The only way I wanna be/ Somewhere where the road ends/ Out there where the creek bends/ That's where you can find me."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren — Dolly Parton's "9 To 5"

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren opted to walk in to the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame to Dolly Parton's "9 to 5." It's not the first time the senator, who's quickly become known as the candidate that has a plan for everything — even your dating life — has used the working class anthem on her campaign trail. It played as Warren walked out on stage to announcer her candidacy in February.

It's easy to see why Warren would move to feature the song in her campaign. It is quite literally a statement about inequality. Lyrics include lines like, "There's a better life, and you dream about it, don't you?," "Barely gettin' by, it's all takin' and no givin'/ They just use your mind and they never give you credit," and even "It's a rich man's game no matter what they call it/And you spend your life puttin' money in his wallet." The only issue? Warren's campaign didn't get Parton's permission to use the song, according to Esquire.

Marianne Williamson — Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground"

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Author and lecturer Marianne Williamson walked out over the weekend to Stevie Wonder's spiritual power anthem "Higher Ground," a song that discusses reincarnation and the glory of getting a second chance. The song may be Williamson's way of subtly encouraging voters to reach their higher ground by turning away from Donald Trump and into love.

Andrew Yang — Mark Morrison's "Return Of The Mack"

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This weekend was not Andrew Yang's first time using Mark Morrison's "Return of the Mack" as his entrance music — and thank god, because the song's beat is killer. In the song, Morrison boasts of being "back up in the game/ Running things to keep my swing/ Letting all the people know/ That I'm back to run the show," a message that can easily translate to a political campaign. In reality, though, the song isn't about politics at all. It's message is instead about returning to the dating game after experiencing sexual betrayal.