Michael Avenatti made it clear as he wandered the rows of stalls at the Iowa State Fair on Thursday: He’s seriously considering a 2020 presidential run to challenge President Donald Trump.
“I’m here to listen to the great people of Iowa, explore the fair and see whether it makes sense to run for the presidency or not,” Avenatti said. “I’m serious about considering it. I haven’t made a decision as to what I’m going to do. I’ll make a decision in the coming weeks. Maybe a bit longer than that.”
The cable television staple and combative lawyer who represents adult film star Stormy Daniels in her defamation suit against Trump had previously suggested he was considering a 2020 bid. His comments in the pivotal presidential primary state are the latest sign he is seriously testing the waters ahead of what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field of contenders.
His visit to the state fair came a day before he headlines the Wing Ding Dinner, an Iowa Democratic fundraiser that has long been a proving ground for presidential hopefuls. Avenatti will speak last at the event, according to organizers, putting him in front of Maryland Rep. John Delaney, who has announced he is running for president, and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, another potential presidential contender.
Avenatti’s visit to Iowa included meals with top Democratic officials, including a gathering on Thursday night at the fair. The lawyer was accompanied in Iowa by Matt Paul, a Democratic strategist who worked on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“The message is going to center on the need to take the fight to this President and that is the only way the Democratic Party is going to get back the White House,” he said. “And, furthermore, it is not just about fighting against Donald Trump, we also have to fight for things, we have to fight for Medicare for all, we have to fight for working people, we have to fight for college affordability.”
Avenatti went on to say that he would only run if he thought the stable of Democrats running against Trump were unable to beat him but declined to answer when asked specifically about top contenders considering a presidential run. He argued that his run would not be based on his career experience — he, like the President when he considered running, has no electoral or government experience — but instead would focus on his desire to stick it to Trump.
“I don’t think experience is the most important thing by any stretch of the imagination,” he said, adding that he believes he can “punch better than a lot of these candidates and I am not confined by” a government job.
When pressed on the idea that experience is not critical, Avenatti responded, “We just tried that, right,” a reference to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“You can have all the experience in the world, you can be the most qualified person in the world, you can have the deepest policy books in the history of the nation, but if you can’t beat this guy, it doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that he thinks he can “punch better than a lot of these candidates” considering a run.
His visit to the state fair was dominated by Trump. Though most people he introduced himself to knew his face but not his name, the President came up in the brief conversations. As he strode down an alley of stalls, one man yelled “Free Stormy,” a reference to his client who is suing the President. And the lawyer also admitted that he wouldn’t be toying with this run if Trump wasn’t in the White House.
But Avenatti, who saw a boom in his notoriety in response to his anti-Trump work, disagreed with critics who argue his run is nothing more than a political stunt or attempt to annoy the President.
“How much more notoriety do I need? I don’t need any more notoriety. I mean, seriously, I don’t need more notoriety,” he said, arguing that if someone polls his name identification with Democratic voters he would place in the “top half, maybe the top third” of people considering a run.
The reality on the ground in Iowa, though, is that a lot of the men and women Avenatti introduced himself to had little idea who he was.
At the end of his visit, before he met with a group of Democratic leaders for dinner, he walked over to Patti Lewis, a 62-year old Des Moines resident and shook his hand.
After Avenatti, Lewis looked perplexed and admitted that she has no idea who she just met and assumed he was a local TV personality.
“I’m just friendly,” she laughed. “I’m an Iowa person.”