Last night was a very bad night for the Iowa Democratic Party and the future of our state. Iowa was engulfed in a red tidal wave that wiped out the party’s majority in the Iowa Senate, handing full control of state government over to the Republicans. The legislative session will be a frightening one, and many Democrats are wondering today whether the party can ever claw it’s way back from this red state status.
The answer is a simple one: we can.
Despite the incredible difficulties that lie ahead and the vast shift in Iowa policies certain to come, there are real reasons for hope. For one, in Iowa we have nonpartisan redistricting. Every year there are winnable seats all across Iowa. In 2010 Democrats went from 56 seats in the Iowa House to 40. They bounced back to 47 seats in 2012, and came within just a few hundred votes of getting a 50-50 tie. We’re at 41 now, and there will be over a dozen competitive districts to play in next cycle.
For the Iowa Senate, we’re facing a multi-cycle journey. That’s okay, we just need to accept the challenge. There will be two key pick-up opportunities next cycle in the Sioux City and Ottumwa-based districts. Depending on the mood of the country, two additional seats in suburban areas of Polk and Scott counties could be put into play. There will also be some tough defense districts in 2018, but Democrats should be able to gain back at least two seats to set us up for 2020. As long as Trump doesn’t have a crazy repeat victory night then, Democrats can recapture all of the seats we lost last night and put one or two additional districts into play. Ending 2020 with 30 Democratic senate seats is not an impossible dream.
In the short term, Democrats need all hands on deck for the special election on December 27th in Davenport for Joe Seng’s seat. It’s a heavily-Democratic district, but at this point no one is taking it for granted given last night’s results.
The other reason for optimism is this: President Donald Trump could turn out to be a total disaster. He’s going into the White House with barely half-formed policy ideas and no clear vision for the future. He won by running against everything. Now he has to do something. And with Republicans in complete control both nationally and in Iowa, they will completely own everything that happens. Their underlying conservative policies are unpopular. And Trump’s temperament problem could crop up in office and undermine everything.
The 2018 midterm could turn out as one of the greatest Democratic wave elections ever if Trump turns out as bad as many of us think he will be. Democrats in Iowa will be led by whomever we select as our party’s gubernatorial nominee. Hopefully a spirited primary gets activists excited, and we end up with a great candidate.
There are obviously many longterm structural, ideological and messaging problems within the Democratic Party, both nationally and in Iowa, that will have to be addressed. Honestly, I don’t think many of us know yet exactly what all the answers to that are. Hillary Clinton did not lose last night because of one single problem. We’ll have to dig into the election result numbers and do some soul-searching within the party to figure out how we address each one.
One thing, however, is clear: Democrats need to rebuild the state party back from its current shaky reputation. One of the more stinging embarrassments of late 2016 was President Barack Obama passing on one last rally in Iowa, the place where it all began for him. This was the site of his final rally in 2012, with Bruce Springsteen performing in front of a crowd of 20,000 in the East Village. Clinton’s last visit to Iowa over a week ago drew maybe 1,500 to Roosevelt High School in Des Moines. Obama loves Iowa, but we couldn’t even bring him back for one event. The fact that Iowa Democrats no longer have the national clout to make something like that happen is distressing. We need to prove to Democrats everywhere, here and nationally, that we run a competent, effective organization.
Even in all of the despair last night, there were some Democratic activists in Iowa who were ready and eager to immediately jump back into the fight. That’s encouraging, and hopefully we can keep that level of energy through into next year.
So, what can Democrats do today? I have one very small suggestion to start out with: collect and send in any legislative GOP mailers or ads you still have. Many of the Republicans running for the Statehouse essentially ran as Democrats on several key issues, like increasing school funding, even though they have fought that tooth and nail during past sessions. When they inevitably break their campaign promises once in Des Moines, they should pay for that. As soon as they vote to underfund our schools, Democrats need to call them out on it, share their old mailers or TV ads on social media and buy Facebook ads to spread it into their districts. We cannot only start talking about Republican legislators’ records with voters two months out from the 2018 election.
So check your mail piles and trash cans to see if you still have those mailers and email them to me at IowaStartingLine@gmail.com.
Starting Line is also going to start laying out a series of posts about ideas and suggestions for where the Iowa Democratic Party goes from here, starting next week. Some will be big-picture visions, some will be simple suggestions for special projects that a dozen people could take on.
I’d like many of my readers to be a part of that discussion, and want to hear your thoughts and get your ideas. Sign up on this form, and I’ll be sending out questions throughout the next week.
Last night was rough. But despite Iowa’s sudden rightward shift, that’s not what this state fundamentally is about. Democrats will fight back, and we will win.
by Pat Rynard