For months now, nervous Iowa Democrats have looked at electoral prediction maps with despair as states like North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona head to toss-up status while Iowa remains in a light red hue. Today a poll found that even Texas was only three points in favor of Trump. There’s been a frustrating lack of reliable polling for Iowa since the 2005 Access Hollywood video surfaced, but there’s concern among Democrats that the perennially purple state hasn’t moved enough from its solid pro-Trump reputation this cycle.
For Iowa to be the only state Barack Obama won in 2012 to go for Donald Trump would be a painful embarrassment for sure, but the real-life impact would be limited were Clinton to still win nationally. A future Democratic presidential candidate without the baggage of Hillary Clinton’s might easily return us to the blue column. The much larger threat to the local Democratic Party, progressive policy priorities and the competitive nature of Iowa politics lies with the precarious balance in the Iowa Legislature.
If the election were held right now, Democrats could very well lose their narrow majority in the State Senate and not pick up the eight seats needed for control in the State House. If that happens, Iowa is completely Republican-controlled and could quickly become the next Wisconsin or even Kansas. That’s something that every Democratic volunteer, young progressive unsure about voting and former activist still on the sidelines needs to fully understand and act upon.
The consequences of such a shift in power at the Statehouse would be massive. Huge tax cuts would be doled out to large corporations. Planned Parenthood and women’s health funding would be targeted. Workplace protections for LGBT individuals would be rolled back. State employees would be laid off in the thousands and their negotiating rights would be reduced. Public education funding would be redirected to private operations. The school funding budget itself would be decided quickly at least – it would be set at 0% allowable growth (if that) early on and Republicans would move on. Any meaningful water quality plans would be dead on arrival.
Governor Terry Branstad has been able to unilaterally shut down mental health facilities and privatize Medicaid for over a half million Iowans despite Democrats controlling the Senate. Imagine what he’ll do with a fully supportive legislature. All of the optimistic proposals newly-engaged progressives are fighting for wouldn’t have a shot in hell – we’d be instead fighting to save what scraps of funding for progressive policies we could.
Iowa’s nonpartisan redistricting might save Iowa Democrats from the fate of their Wisconsin counterparts, but Republicans could still greatly restrict absentee balloting and early voting laws that the Democratic Party utilizes to turn out their voters.
And if Iowa goes to full Republican control from this election, it will make it harder to win back the Statehouse or the Governor’s office in 2018. For one, it’s harder to raise money when you’re in the minority, so there will be fewer resources to win back seats. For another, there’s less institutional support to build upon, from fewer spots for promising campaign staffers to fill between elections to fewer local electeds whose personal networks can boost their local parties. It’s possible Republicans could go too far to the right with full control, but so far Democrats have struggled at times to fully hold the Branstad administration accountable for its excesses anyway.
There’s also a psychological aspect to it, where Democrats could get fatigued from spending all their time in 2017 fighting ultra conservative legislation instead of preparing for future elections.
The Iowa Democratic Party already has a lot of rebuilding to do after 2016. There’s longterm down-ballot programs to initiate, fences to mend between internal factions and a hugely consequential gubernatorial race to prepare for. The party’s job will be made that much harder if Democrats lose control of the Iowa Senate and fail to pick up the Iowa House.
For the final three weeks of the election, Democratic-leaning voters and activists should keep that at the forefront of their mind. Those who can get out to key swing legislative districts should do so and help with the early vote turnout effort there. Much of this is already happening, but there’s other activists who would probably like to know where their remaining volunteer time would be best spent to ensure Democrats hold on to a legislative majority. Starting Line will post its suggestions for which specific districts tomorrow morning [Update: read them here].
by Pat Rynard