As soon as the election on November 8 concludes, the next big campaign for the future of the Iowa Democratic Party begins. Andy McGuire does not plan on running for a second term as party chair, likely to launch a run for governor soon after the election instead. That will leave open the state party’s top spot, with another free-for-all competition to ensue. The state party tentatively plans to hold that election at a state central committee meeting on December 17.
In most years’ past, the top elected Democrat in the state, whether it be Tom Vilsack, Chet Culver or Tom Harkin, essentially made the pick for the Iowa Democrats chair themselves. When no clear leader remained after the 2014 wipeout, a competitive race developed. McGuire prevailed over Kurt Meyer reportedly by just one vote, according to a vote-counting source, also besting Jim Mowrer and Tim Tracy. Mike Gronstal’s strong support behind the scenes helped McGuire eke out a win, but it was real, open contest. A similar scene will likely play out this time unless Patty Judge defeats Chuck Grassley, in which case she might have a large say in who is chosen.
The early battle for control of the party started months ago during the long caucus convention process, as Bernie Sanders supporters organized their delegates to win seats on the state central committee. A proposed and accepted expansion of the number of caucus committees in the party (like a new Senior Caucus and a Progressive Caucus) was seen as a way for Sanders backers to pick up newly-created central committee seats to snag a majority. By Starting Line’s count, Sanders supporters ended up just short of a majority, taking 23 seats to Clinton supporters’ 24.
However, how long those Sanders/Clinton divides will remain is yet to be seen. Not every Sanders backer is certain to vote for a consensus Sanders pick, nor will all the Clinton-leaning members vote for someone else.
There’s also the matter of the balloting. If the party holds its election for chair in the same way they did in 2015, they’ll use multiple rounds of ballots until someone wins a majority, dropping the lowest vote-getter each time. So a candidate couldn’t win against a fractured field by getting 40% – they’d have to eventually win over a majority in later ballots.
Starting Line has been asking around the past few weeks about who might run. Quite a few names have surfaced, but at this point they’re just that: names. A few confirmed they were interested, but all stressed that their current focus is helping the party win in November.
Below is who Starting Line hears as potential Iowa Democratic Party chair candidates. Not all are actively seeking it just yet, some are ones that people are hoping to recruit and others are simply predictions.
The Des Moines attorney is seen by several as the early front-runner for the chair position. A win would mean a return to his old office – McCormally served as the party’s communications director in 2004, after starting out as a field organizer in 2002. He then went to work as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office for eight years, has served on the state central committee since 2010 and briefly looked at running for State House in the Beaverdale-based Des Moines district.
McCormally would likely be a strong fundraiser for the party, along with bringing his experience as a former campaign staffer to the job to better oversee the party’s election efforts. At the moment he can’t actively campaign for the position as he’s working for the party with its voter protection efforts. But he has plenty of connections on the central committee to put himself in a strong position immediately after Election Day. He was a Clinton supporter in the caucus, but made a point to reach out to Sanders delegates during the conventions.
The political director for Sanders during the Iowa Caucus, Lawton has been planning a bid for party chair for several months. Many of the new Sanders delegates on the state central committee have already been pushing his name. Other rumored Sanders candidates for party chair, like Mike Carberry, seem to have stepped aside to back Lawton. However, in a similar situation to McCormally, Lawton currently works for the party as Jim Mowrer’s field director and has publicly made it clear that he is not currently actively campaigning for the position.
Lawton could help the party capitalize on the new Sanders enthusiasm from the caucus as he’s well-known to all the main Sanders activists, having stayed behind in Iowa to organize the conventions. Winning just the Sanders members’ votes won’t be enough, however, so he’ll have to convince a few others how a mid-level campaign staffer will be able to raise enough money to keep the state party competitive.
The runner-up from last time would be a strong contender if he gives it another try. But there was a lot of turnover on the central committee at convention, so many of the votes he had from January 2015 may no longer be there. Meyer is the well-respected chair of the Tri-County Democrats in Northern Iowa. He’s built a reputation out of organizing strong local parties that have kept rural counties blue, his being some of the only in the state to go Democrat in 2014.
Whether Meyer runs could depend on what central committee members decide their next chair should focus on – a thought process they don’t always go through. Meyer excels at county party building and would likely implement some long-term local party strategies. A focus by the party on campaign tactics might be less interesting for him.
A new name that popped up recently, Eadon was Obama’s general election director for Iowa in 2012 and currently runs his own political consulting firm in Des Moines, Bluprint Strategies. Eadon has done a good job in seeking out and recruiting a lot of the talented, up-and-coming political operatives in Iowa for his firm’s operations, and could bring a top-flight team with him to the party. He also has plenty of connections with major donors both in Iowa and nationally to help fundraise for the party.
Eadon would likely bring a lot of strategic changes to the state party, with ideas on new digital outreach methods and local candidate recruitment. He’s probably not as well-known among the central committee members as some of the other potential candidates and would need to reach out quickly as the campaign heats up. He too is doing work for the party right now.
The runner-up in this year’s 3rd District Democratic primary, Sherzan reportedly wants to stay actively involved in the party now that he’s retired – this could be one way for him to do so. Sherzan impressed a lot of people and made many friends with his positive campaign for Congress, on which he spent $700,000 of his own money. That willingness to put his own wealth on the line could fund some projects that he might envision leading. Outside of those involved in the 3rd District race, he doesn’t have as many personal connections among the activist crowd and would need to start working the committee members early to have a shot at winning.
This one is more of a prediction. If Weaver comes up short in her uphill battle against Steve King in the 4th District, one could easily see how she progresses into a run for state party chair. A current state central committee member herself, Weaver has built a loyal following on social media among some of the state’s most vocal and organized activists. She’s done a lot of outreach to Sanders supporters and has even recruited State House candidates in the 4th District where there were no Democrats running.
If Lawton doesn’t work out as the Sanders’ consensus nominee, Starting Line has heard Hubka’s name mentioned by several people. Hubka ran for State House in Northern Iowa and is a key leader in the Tri County Democrats.
Another state central committee member, Brauch won high praise from both Clinton and Sanders delegates for his calm, steady running of the 3rd District convention and state convention. A lot of important activists see him as a good leader with excellent management skills, always something useful in the chair role. Brauch served in the Attorney General’s office for several decades. He’s not as well known outside the state party crowd, but could have the inside track to win enough votes from fellow committee members.
For a few weeks, Dvorksy was a rumored candidate who could have returned to her former chair position with a multi-year plan to rebuild the party. However, she confirmed to Starting Line that she will not run again for chair, preferring instead to see some new faces take up leadership positions. After the election she plans on returning home to Coralville and staying involved in any way she can – just not as party chair.
by Pat Rynard