Iowa Democrats opened their first two coordinated campaign field offices of the 2016 cycle on Wednesday and Thursday. But it wasn’t in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids or Davenport. Instead, it was much farther north, and in the considerably smaller counties of Mitchell and Floyd, where Iowa Democratic Party Chair Andy McGuire traveled to christen their new offices in Osage and Charles City.
Why start there? Several reasons.
The biggest is that this northern Iowa region is ground zero in the battle for control of the Iowa Legislature. Mary Jo Wilhelm, who was Democrats’ 26th Senator in 2012, maintaining the majority by winning with 126 votes, faces another competitive reelection race. If she’s defeated by Republican Waylon Brown, Democrats have almost no chance of retaining control in the Iowa Senate. Osage and Charles City are the two main population centers in her Senate District 26 – opening the first two IDP offices there is a clear sign the party is heavily focused in helping her win reelection.
The northern half of Wilhelm’s district also contains House District 51, where the last of the moderate Republicans, Representative Josh Byrnes, is retiring from. That makes this district – which Braley actually carried in 2014 – ripe for a pick-up. Democrats’ candidate here, Tim Hejhal, brings an impressive resume to the race as a former school principal who served 29 years in the Air National Guard. Turning this district blue could very well cut short Linda Upmeyer’s tenure as Speaker.
There’s also ready-to-go infrastructure in this key region for Democrats. Kurt Meyer and the Tri-County Democrats are one of the most effective organizations in the state. That coordinated effort covers Worth, Mitchell and Howard counties. They have a large team of volunteers that can easily fill a campaign office in a way many smaller counties can’t.
But Meyer himself also hinted at another reason at the office opening in Osage on Thursday night.
Meyer had brought with him to the opening a Bruce Braley yard sign, the campaign nearly all Iowa Democrats would like to forget. Many in the audience groaned at just the sight. But Meyer’s point was to highlight how Worth, Cerro Gordo, Howard and Floyd counties all remained in the Democratic column. In a sea of red in that wave year, northern Iowa stood out. Even in several smaller, rural counties. Democrats have found real success here in the past – may as well double down on it.
McGuire too had the 2014 map on her mind. She drew out of her pocket a small piece of lamented paper with the county-by-county results map for the Braley-Ernst race.
“That’s a red state,” McGuire said, holding the map. “All I kept thinking is I don’t want to live in a red Iowa, and I’m not leaving … You’re the backbone of the party. Please do everything you can to get your neighbors, get your friends out there. Because we’re not a red state. We’re not even a purple state. We’re a blue state. So let’s all get out there and elect Mary Jo and Tim!”
U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge was on hand as well, and talked up her effort to oust Chuck Grassley with the crowd.
The local Democratic county parties helped raise money to open these offices, and the party says they’ll be quickly ramping up the office openings. Kane Miller, the Hillary Clinton campaign’s regional field director for Polk County during the caucus, is expected to head up the coordinated campaign.
“They’re going to be everywhere,” McGuire said of IDP offices. “So we’re first here, but we’re going to be everywhere. We’re not taking one vote for grant. We’re going to be all over the state and we’re going to turn this state blue.”
“We’re going to have a full ticket,” Meyer said afterward in reference to the area having a competitive U.S. Senate, U.S. House, State Senate, State House and presidential race. “There’s a lot of interest in the House seat … It’s local-focused, and you can talk about local-focus in Des Moines or Linn County, but unless you get an office and staff and legitimate grassroots excitement going, it’s all window-dressing.”
As McGuire neared the end of her speech at the event, Meyer stood by a corner of the room, turning the gardening shears he brought to cut the celebratory ribbon over and over in his hands, seemingly very eager to snip the blue fabric.
McGuire, Meyer, Judge, Wilhelm and Hejhal joined together to make the workplace official, all placing their hands on the shears for the cut. It took two tries, but they got it.
By Pat Rynard