The wide open race to serve as the next Iowa Democratic Party chair will be a crowded one, with six contenders officially in the race as of yesterday. Julie Stauch announced in a post on Facebook yesterday afternoon that she would seek the position, while Kurt Meyer emailed friends and activists to let them know he would as well. Those two round out the already announced group of Sandy Dockendorff, Derek Eadon, Blair Lawton and Kim Weaver. There was speculation on social media yesterday about whether Mike Gronstal may run for chair as well [Update: Gronstal sent out an email to SCC members today saying he is running].
The actual election for chair was pushed back from its original December 17 planned date to January 21. Instead, that December meeting of the SCC will feature a forum of all the potential chair candidates.
In a field this large, it’s difficult to handicap anyone’s chances. This campaign for chair is even more competitive and unpredictable than the four-way race in January of 2015 that saw Andy McGuire score a narrow win after three rounds of balloting.
This one will be conducted in the same way – multiple rounds of ballots with the candidate with the least amount of votes dropped after each round until someone gets 50%+1. That creates a lot of uncertainty because of how the day will play out. With 49 voting members of the IDP’s State Central Committee, each candidate will likely come to the table with at least a handful of votes. Even were Gronstal to get in the race, given the current makeup of the SCC, it’s unlikely that even someone with his stature would be able to win outright on the first one or two ballots.
As each round progresses, who knows how the dynamics will play out. A candidate could realize they have little chance to win and decide to team up with a stronger option as their vice chair or executive director and combine their votes. A candidate could get upset over someone’s speech or perceived criticism and try to throw their votes to another person out of spite. A David Young-type situation could occur, where the most inoffensive candidate with the fewest enemies could slowly rise over multiple rounds simply by keeping their head down and playing nice. And this is all assuming any of the SCC members will be steadfastly loyal to any one candidate.
While the SCC is not quite exactly divided in terms of who people supported during the Iowa Caucus, there still exists a split between some Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton backers (both sides have roughly equal numbers on the SCC). There’s also a big gap between some of the newer members and longtime ones. But there doesn’t appear to be a large enough faction for any one candidate to win early on. Many from the Sanders group could rally behind one choice, start off with the most votes in round one, but still not be able to get to 50%+1 after several ballots. Same goes for the Clinton group.
There also exists few outside leaders anymore who could really tip the scales for one candidate as was typically done in the past. An endorsement from Dave Loebsack, Tom Harkin or Tom Vilsack would only go so far with the current SCC, maybe just convincing a small handful of members. Too much of an effort like that might actually backfire with a SCC that appears to be in an anti-status quo mood these days.
At this point it seems that whoever emerges victorious will need to do something creative and different in order to win. With this many candidates, the usual practice of calling and meeting with every SCC member will only get you so far considering everyone is doing that. That leaves a lot to chance at the actual voting day, though there may be no getting around that.
A quick description of each candidate:
Sandy Dockendorff: Longtime member of the SCC from Southeast Iowa who has organized both rural and blue collar areas of the state, co-chair of the Rules Committee.
Derek Eadon: Iowa director for Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign, founder of Bluprint Strategies consulting, organized in Cedar Rapids, lives in West Des Moines.
Blair Lawton: Political director for Bernie Sanders’ Iowa Caucus campaign, state director for Run Warren Run, field director for Jim Mowrer, originally from Lyon County.
Kurt Meyer: Well-known leader of the Tri-County Democrats in Northern Iowa, non-profit consultant, close runner-up in the last IDP chair election.
Julie Stauch: Has worked 20 years in state and national campaigns, started as an activist in Cerro Gordo County, runs a leadership consulting service, lives in West Des Moines.
Kim Weaver: Ran against Steve King in 2016, organized county Democrats in Northwest Iowa, works as a state ombudsman for longterm care facilities, AFSCME member.
by Pat Rynard