The worst kept secret in Iowa politics is that Iowa Democratic Party chair Andy McGuire is running for governor, and has been planning for it since before her election as party chair. Her path in a primary for 2018 was always going to be difficult if she faced serious opposition, but it has become near-impossible after Tuesday’s wipeout for Iowa Democrats.
There were a ton of factors at play in Iowa’s drastic shift in Republicans’ favors. An unpopular presidential nominee that always had long-running problems with the state. A united Iowa Republican Party that kept defections from Trump to a minimum. A huge shift in demographic party loyalty that hit Midwestern states the hardest. A lack of the minority voting blocs that are better for Democrats. Lingering frustration from the primary. The list goes on and on.
But McGuire was the captain of the ship when it went down in epic fashion, and many will question whether it had to be this bad. Losing six state senate seats, losing two state house seats, not coming close in the congressionals, the huge swings for the GOP in Eastern Iowa counties – this was worse than the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Mike Gronstal swung the chair election in McGuire’s favor in 2015, largely in an effort to ensure the IDP focused on legislative swing districts – they ended up with some of their worst losses ever.
There was no shortage of behind-the-scenes grumbling over multiple aspects of the Iowa Democratic Party the past two years, from activists and campaigns. Many felt the Iowa Caucus was mishandled. The conventions afterward too. A needless controversy over who spoke at the DNC Convention lost McGuire many allies. And perhaps the party’s biggest failure was its poor outreach to Bernie Sanders supporters after the caucus. The Iowa Caucus is supposed to help build the party – the divisions that remained in the months after weakened it, and still exist in some ways today. Were McGuire to run for governor, the former Sanders crowd would be fervently opposed to her.
To most Iowa Democratic activists, McGuire is known to them only as the chair of the party. With these horrific election results, she couldn’t possibly run on that experience. And how many Democrats would trust her leading our top-of-ticket given those results, especially with the extreme frustration over our top Iowa candidates in recent years, like Patty Judge and Bruce Braley.
The bigger problem McGuire would have to look at is the new problems she’d face in the general election. Democrats saw massive losses in Northeast Iowa and along the Mississippi River, in the working class areas that overwhelmingly chose Trump. Many voters in 2016 saw Hillary Clinton as out-of-touch and part of a corrupt, non-functioning system. McGuire will be painted by Republicans as a rich, big city liberal who was part of the system. How can she possibly win back those counties if that’s still part of the mood in two years?
McGuire would still come into a race with a lot of money. She never got quite the credit she deserved for the good fiscal shape the IDP was in during her tenure. Everyone’s plans for some innovative new program they think the party should do is great, but none of it will get off the ground if the party can’t fund it. And McGuire did travel the state extensively during her time as chair – a longstanding complaint from many county parties is they never see the IDP out in their areas. McGuire put in a lot of long hours and a lot of miles on her car.
Still, a McGuire run for governor in 2018 would be extremely difficult, if not plain impossible, both in the primary and the general election. Her profile is simply not the right fit to address Democrats’ electoral problems in Iowa.
It may take a few more weeks for Democrats to fully recover from and analyze the election results, but expect other potential candidates for governor to start making moves in the following months.
by Pat Rynard