By Quint Forgey
Upon entering Bernie Sanders’ New Year’s Eve bash in downtown Des Moines, party attendees first glimpse of their candidate came rendered in broad strokes of baby blue, rosy pink and dusty white paint.
Rob Hogan, a 38-year-old Chicago artist, stood before his canvas, graciously racking up compliments on his portrait of Sanders from passersby floating in and out of ballrooms at the Renaissance Hotel.
Hogan began work on the likeness at 5:30 p.m. and was set to wrap up when the event ended three and a half hours later. But by 7 o’clock, Hogan said he found himself stalling. The only missing features were some sporadic wrinkles yet to be applied to the 74-year-old politician’s smiling face.
More than 300 miles away from the Windy City, Hogan was in town for one night only to show his support and donate the proceeds from his paintings to the Sanders campaign.
“The campaign means different things for different people,” Hogan explained. “We’re all trying to highlight people and their individual talents.”
Among the throngs of middle-aged, blue-collar Iowans were packs of millennials with painted faces. Longhaired musicians peppered the crowd.
Hogan wasn’t the only Sanders supporter celebrating the event’s myriad of personalities.
Logan Villhauer, a 26-year-old lifelong Iowan in attendance, performs in drag shows under the name Karyn Wood Micheals at The Blazing Saddle bar in Des Moines.
Villhauer has caucused in Iowa since he turned 18 in 2008, when he scored a job out of high school at a local Pizza Ranch and used a couple of hot slices to help woo neighbors to the Obama campaign.
Sheathed in a black fur jacket, Villhauer chatted up acquaintances at the gathering and snacked on wontons from the buffet line.
“The great thing about Iowa is you think it’s just a bunch of cold, white people. It’s not,” Villhauer said. “I see people from my community that are here…people of different ages, races. That’s just the beauty of events like this.”
Villhauer was formerly a Martin O’Malley supporter, but switched to the Sanders camp after watching the senator’s performance in the debates. He said Sanders is the most socially progressive candidate he’s ever seen – a man who does not change his beliefs for the sake of political expediency.
“You haven’t always had my community’s back,” Villhauer said of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who has received scorn throughout her presidential campaign for withholding support of gay marriage until 2013 after nearly a decade of opposition.
“Bernie Sanders has always had my community’s back,” he said. “It seems like 2016 is the year that we can actually make extremely progressive change in the nation.”
In brief, back-to-back speeches in two spacious event rooms lit by chandeliers and the flashes of press cameras, Sanders concurred. Hobbled by a raspy voice from a full day of campaigning in the Hawkeye State, he knew the party wasn’t a venue for long oratory.
“In a few hours, 2015 will be gone and 2016 will be here,” the presidential candidate said. “Let’s go forward and make 2016 a year that people hundreds of years from now will remember as the year that transformed America.”