Keys to Winning Woodbury County

By Pat Rynard

February 19, 2015

Who do Democratic presidential hopefuls need on their side to win in Woodbury County? We continue our profile of important Iowa counties. We did Clinton County last week.

Main City: Sioux City

Population: 102,130 (6th largest county)

About the County: Sioux City, Northwest Iowa’s population center, sits on the border of South Dakota and Nebraska. Beset with major factory losses in 2010, the city is slowly recovering with a revitalized downtown driving economic development. Nearly 15% of the population is Hispanic, mostly living on Sioux City’s west side. The town is starkly divided among income level. Closer to downtown you’ll find rundown neighborhoods with formerly-nice houses broken up into apartment complexes. Travel just two blocks north and you suddenly run into expensive, well-maintained homes. A few middle class neighborhoods remain in Riverside, Leeds and by Morningside College and Briar Cliff University. Woodbury County was the only Iowa county that switched from McCain in 2008 to Obama in 2012, a major accomplishment for the local Democrats.

Past Results:

2004: Kerry 41%, Dean 28%, Edwards 23%, Gephardt 7%

2008: Clinton 36%, Obama 36%, Edwards 28%

Candidates’ Prospects:

Western Iowa was Clinton country in 2008. She just barely won Woodbury, but it was still an important major-county victory. She will likely do well here again, but there are enough Sioux City activists not interested in another Clinton run that she’ll have some real competition. Run Warren Run recently held a well-attended event here. If Warren doesn’t get in, O’Malley or Biden could do very well among the local Democrats’ old guard of activists.

Look to the large Hispanic community as a wild card. They don’t usually turn out for caucuses, but with the right strategy they could be the tipping point a candidate needs.

Key Activists:

State Representative Chris Hall – One of the younger members of the Iowa House, the three-term Hall is very well-respected and well-connected locally and around the state. His endorsement would bring with it his ability to work activists, donors and elected officials behind the scenes. He will certainly end up on a presidential campaign’s leadership team, perhaps as a statewide co-chair.

Penny Rosfjord – She only got deeply involved in local races a few campaign cycles ago, but has quickly become one of the best county chairs in the state. As the head of the Woodbury Democrats she’s overseen an impressive operation that’s worked well with the state party to expand Democrats’ base of voters in the county.

Al Sturgeon, Rick Mullin, Tim Bottaro, Mac Smith and Pat Gill – The old guard of Woodbury County politics that knows nearly every local activist and volunteer from the past several decades. They have influence with the regular caucus-goer crowd that determines the winner in the delegate-heavy midtown and north-side Sioux City precincts. Sturgeon’s a former state senator, Gill’s the County Auditor, Mullin’s a former party chair and ran for state senate, Smith’s a labor attorney and helps with political strategy, and Bottaro’s an attorney, former chair and long-time party insider.

Dave Bernstein and Lew Weinberg – Two Sioux City business owners that are big donors in Iowa politics. Weinberg owns a number of properties in town. Dave Bernstein owns State Steel and provides particularly sage political advice.

State Representative Dave Dawson – A former prosecutor and now private attorney, Dawson has ample connections in the state’s legal community. He can also boost a candidate in the strong Democratic precincts he represents on Sioux City’s west side.

John and Julie Hamm, Lance Jahn and Marv Harrington – The labor leaders of Sioux City. John is the former head of Northwest Iowa Labor Council, Lance is its current Vice Chair, and Marv was in charge of the large UFCW Local 222. The Sioux City Labor Day picnic usually brings out a number of big-name Democrats to speak.

Mayor Bob Scott and City Councilwoman Rhonda Capron – The mayor of Sioux City is a big Biden guy, and can be very helpful in arranging major events in town. Rhonda Capron will work the community for her candidate and is not afraid to speak her mind. She owned Rhonda’s Speakeasy, so she’s well-liked by the biker community in town.

Steve Warnstadt – A former state senator and current colonel in the Army National Guard, Warnstadt recently returned from a high-profile assignment to Kosovo for NATO. Warnstadt might shy away from politics during his current position with the Guard, but if he doesn’t, he would be an excellent surrogate for any campaign.

Alex Waters – He recently ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor, but he’s got tons of connections around the local young professional community. He was heavily involved in OFA, and many of the old OFA volunteers are very loyal to him. He’s also a first-year advisor at Morningside College, which is where campaigns find many student volunteers.

Norma De La O, Perla Alarcorn-Flory and Ismeal Valadez – Many precincts on Sioux City’s west side and near-downtown are dominated by Hispanic voters. The community can be difficult to network into, but De La O and Alarcorn-Flory can help connect candidates with the leading business owners, plant workers and doctors. Valadez is a newcomer from South Sioux City that’s helped with Hispanic turnout. The raw number of potential Democratic caucus-goers are there, even if they don’t have a big history of caucus attendance.

George Boykin, Flora Lee and Treyla Lee-Chavis – They’re all key leaders in Sioux City’s African American community. Boykin, a former county supervisor, runs the Sanford Center, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth.

Pat Hammerstrom and Joan Tozier – Two great tireless volunteers that you want on your team. Tozier is a retired teacher, a former team leader for OFA and can bring a small army of volunteers to a campaign office.

Key Issues:

Economic development is a major concern in any city, but particularly so in Sioux City. Factory closures hit Sioux City hard in recent years, and it wasn’t clear at the time whether the city would recover from the massive job losses. Fortunately, a vastly redeveloped downtown has spurned economic growth. The construction and expansion of the Hard Rock casino brought a lot of jobs back to the region. Small business incentives and the role of the gaming industry in economic development are key topics here.

Immigration matters are obviously important to the large Hispanic community in Woodbury County. A significant number of legal residents live in town, awaiting the long process required to become an American citizen. Democrats touting their immigration reform ideas will be much welcomed.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 2/19/15

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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