The Johnston and Urbandale Democrats hosted the three hopefuls looking to take on David Young – Desmund Adams, Jim Mowrer and Mike Sherzan – for the Des Moines/Council Bluffs-based 3rd District. About four dozen local Democrats filled the seats at the Johnston Public Library, well-fed that evening with a large bounty of cookies from local volunteers. Local State House candidate Maridith Morris and State Senate candidate Miyoko Hikiji gave their campaign pitches before the forum kicked off.
Tornadoes to the southwest of Des Moines threatened to possibly cut the night short, but the most severe weather held off (thankfully, as the shelter plan was for everyone to take cover in the library’s bathrooms). The scene inside the building was a much calmer setting, with each of the three candidates in unanimous agreement on the issues.
Moderator Geoff Greenwood, formerly with KCCI and now the spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General’s office, moderated the forum, asking four questions that had been given to the candidates in advance. That led the forum to play out in a rather predictable way, but each candidate found a way to stand out.
“The number one thing that impacts our district is poverty,” Adams said in describing what he saw as the 3rd District’s biggest needs. “75% of students in the Des Moines Public Schools system – the largest in the state of Iowa – are on free or reduced lunch … In addition poverty rates in our southwestern corridor, seeing as nine of our sixteen counties have lost population, in addition to job loss, poverty is striking deeply in the gut of our southwest corridor. Second, a livable wage. I think that it’s asinine and also criminal that a person can work 40 hours a week and still need assistance from the government to put food on the table.”
Both Mowrer and Sherzan emphasized protecting Social Security, a key message point in both of their campaign’s communications materials being sent around the district.
“I grew up on a family farm here in central Iowa, but when I was seven years-old my father died in a farming accident,” Mowrer said during his segment. “The only thing that really kept our family from falling so far down that we couldn’t get back up was the basic social safety net, and in particular Social Security survivor benefits.”
“I consider economic injustice, not only in the 3rd District but around the country, to be the most important aspect that I believe needs to be rectified,” Sherzan said, also sharing his own story of a father who died and how his family received Social Security help. “Two women are now running [my former company] who I put in place with board approval to be CEO and board person … Equal pay is extremely important to me and that’s how I ran that company.”
By and large all three candidates repeatedly came down on the same side of every major issue discussed, including climate change, foreign policy and student debt. But each pushed their own unique qualifications and messaging into the discussion the best they could.
Mowrer repeatedly returned to his experience in national defense from his service in Iraq and working in the Pentagon. Part of it was to show his in-depth knowledge on the topic, but he also pitched it as how he’d best stack up against Young in a general election contest where Republicans will hit Democrats on terrorism.
“[Obama] expressed concern that the Republicans are going to try to turn this election into a national security referendum,” Mowrer said. “They know they’re wrong on major economic issues, minimum wage, Social Security. So what Donald Trump and the Republicans are going to do is make this about foreign policy and national security because they think they can beat Democrats on it. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m an Iraq War veteran, I served in intelligence as a civilian at the Pentagon. National security and foreign policy is in my wheelhouse.”
Sherzan returned to themes of leadership and his own business experience, setting up a preview of how he’d contrast himself with Young.
“It’s pretty obvious to me how [Young] became number one when he was number five,” Sherzan said in reference to how Young won a special convention for Congress after placing fifth in the actual vote. “He basically has stood aside and hidden from the citizens of the third district, because I’m not sure anyone in this room could detail what he actually stands for.”
“I don’t like the word ‘fight’ in politics, but I’ll work extremely hard to make sure privatization never affects our Social Security or our social safety nets,” Sherzan said in one his many references on Social Security.
While Mowrer emphasized his connection to the Barack Obama administration from working at the Pentagon, Adams tried to cast himself as an Obama-like candidate. He specifically told the crowd that the issues in the primary don’t matter as much since all the candidates largely agree, and that the real test was who could bring together a coalition to beat Young.
“The only one who’s won [in our district] in recent years is Barack Obama,” Adams noted. “It’s about building coalitions that are broad that can unseat David Young … Money is not the issue and the issues is not the issue. We are all similar on the issues.”
“Three groups didn’t show up [in 2014]: African Americans, Latinos and the young. Now I want you to look around the room and see if you see any of those three,” Adams said in his closing (though there were actually several people from each of those groups in the room. “So we’re on the path to lose again … I believe I’m the only candidate best positioned to beat David Young because I have the broadest experience, personal and professional.”
None of the candidates took direct shots at one another, though they all made very subtle digs. Mowrer told the audience it was important who you’ve surrounded yourself with and what you worked on in your life, perhaps in reference to Sherzan running a financial services and investment firm. Sherzan highlighted his age and years of experience, possibly as a contrast to his younger opponents in a primary where turnout is likely to skew older. Adams slammed past Democrats who have run losing campaigns despite being well-financed.
For the most part, all candidates did themselves some good in front of an audience of primary-going Democrats. Adams gave the most dynamic performance of the night and got several laughs from he crowd. Mowrer gave some of the more in-depth answers on policy positions.
You could tell Sherzan is still relatively new at this, as a handful of times he talked about the voters’ need to research his history instead of just telling them about it (since that’s what these people were here for). But he closed well with a forceful line of “The way we treat our teachers in this country is a travesty,” also referencing he has two daughters who now work in education.
Overall, a much more pleasant and agreeable meeting between the Democratic candidates for the 3rd District than their counterparts in the 1st, but also one where it might have been harder for the voters to see the differences between their options.
by Pat Rynard