Many Important Topics Missing From IDP Chair Discussion

Some people fear a vacuum of power post-election, but the wide-open race for IDP chair has generated some much-needed discussion over what has gone wrong with our party, and what we need to do differently. Rather than having a hand-picked chair, the uncertain coming election has allowed a wealth of new ideas to get debated for a party struggling with how to move forward. It’s refreshing, and it’s been a joy to observe.

However, one thing that struck me after watching the two forums last week and listening to a few of the conference calls, is how narrow the debate is over the issues facing the next IDP chair. I hesitate to write this, as one of my biggest annoyances is people watching the news and yelling, “They’re only talking about this! Why aren’t they talking about that!”, especially when both things are important. But the lack of serious discussion around several key topics was surprising.

For one, I don’t believe I heard anyone, not a candidate nor a SCC member in the audience last Saturday, talk about the importance of retaking the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House. Kim Reynolds was barely mentioned at all. Perhaps this was simply implied in the whole “elect more Democrats” mantra, and that most think the individual legislative caucus committees are the sole group responsible for the swing districts. While it’s true they take the lead on the targeted districts, the state party should also be a close partner in advocating for and highlighting the state’s most crucial legislative races.

One of the ideas that garnered the most discussion and interest from many of the candidates and SCC members was a proposal to run Democratic candidates in deep-red districts and have the state party help them with funding. I certainly agree with the desire, and wrote out a lengthy proposal myself last month. Doing so will help the top-of-the-ticket candidates with their statewide numbers. But my concern is that it seems the top priority for many, coming before a host of much more dire needs.

For example, what the hell are we going to do about Northeast Iowa and the 1st Congressional District? This used to be a reliably Democratic area of the state, and it went deep red in many counties this year. If we don’t immediately reverse the trends in Northeast Iowa and blue collar towns along the Mississippi River, this party is sunk.

Iowa Democratic activists have always loved to talk nonstop about Western Iowa and how to improve things there. I worked in Western Iowa and love Western Iowa, but there’s other regions of the state I see as a much higher priority right now.

The bottom fell out for Democrats in places like Howard, Dubuque and Clayton counties. Howard County went from +20% Obama in 2012 to +20% Trump in 2016, the biggest flip in the entire nation. Dubuque County went red for the first time since Dwight Eisenhower. Mississippi River towns that were once solidly Democratic thanks to union support embraced Trump instead.

And the problem here wasn’t that we didn’t run local candidates in every district. We did, and the party devoted a ton of money to win in these areas. And yet people like Representative Patti Ruff, a well-liked, hard-working, two-term legislator from Clayton County, got a mere 33% of the vote thanks in part to the Trump wave. If our best candidates and legislators can’t even get more than a third of the vote in formerly swing districts, taking back the Statehouse becomes extremely difficult. [Edit: Ruff actually got 44% of the vote – I was looking at the Register’s results map, and the data is wrong in that district. Even still, that margin was surprising. Perhaps the better example then is Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm, who got just 36.7% despite beating two incumbent Republicans in prior cycles.]

Which leads me to another topic I hope gets more discussion: our new opportunities. So, what happens if, despite our best efforts, we don’t regain our full, former share of the vote in places like Northeast Iowa and along the Mississippi River? We’ll have to make up for it elsewhere. And there’s an emerging area to do just that: in suburban communities.

If Muscatine and Allamakee and Clayton counties move out of reach for Democrats (not that they couldn’t swing right back in 2018, but just in case…), we need to start making up for it in Ankeny, Marion, Hiawatha and Bettendorf.

Consider the numbers from Bettendorf, which includes the higher-income neighborhoods of Scott County. In the four Bettendorf precincts with the highest turnouts, all ones that Mitt Romney won in 2012, Hillary Clinton improved significantly over Barack Obama’s margin. Obama lost Bettendorf Precinct 41 by 28 points in 2012; Clinton fell short by 11 points, a 17-point swing for the Democrats. In Bettendorf Precinct 52, Obama got 35% with 820 votes in 2012; Clinton improved to 41% with 1,246 votes, while Trump dropped 11 points behind Romney’s share of the vote.

Precinct Trump Clinton Other Trump % Clinton %
B41 1182 930 146 52% 41%
B42 1021 970 166 47% 45%
B51 1124 967 144 50% 43%
B52 1595 1246 185 53% 41%
Precinct Romney Obama Other Romney % Obama %
B41 1420 793 14 64% 36%
B42 1172 1061 45 51% 47%
B51 1191 1002 33 54% 45%
B52 1511 820 25 64% 35%

While Iowa as a whole swung a full 16 points, from a six-point Obama win in 2012 to a ten-point Trump victory in 2016, Trump only improved over Romney’s margin in Bettendorf’s 11 precincts by a mere 0.3%. Many Republicans in suburban areas stuck with Trump despite their disgust of him, simply because they liked Clinton even less. When she’s not on the ballot and Trump’s still around in 2018, the choice to abandon the Republican ticket becomes a lot easier for these people.

Iowa Democrats could make huge gains in these places in 2018, flipping legislative seats in once-red areas of Ankeny, Johnston, West Des Moines, Hiawatha, Marion, Bettendorf and Cedar Falls. Of course, the problem is that Iowa doesn’t have enough suburban areas to offset losses in so many rural places, but this isn’t a zero-sum game. The point is that there’s a real opportunity here, and it needs to be a focus of the next chair.

One other area of opportunity: downtown Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Part of the problem with Democrats’ vote erosion in rural counties is that the younger, more progressive Iowans in those communities have moved away. Some have gone out of state, but a lot of them have moved into a three-mile radius of new apartment complexes and condos in downtown Des Moines. The party must find a way to cultivate this vote base, often difficult to get ahold of as they live in limited-access apartment buildings. You could potentially boost your statewide turnout by thousands of votes with an intensive effort here.

Finally, the legislative session is soon upon us, and it will be one that could define the future of Iowa for decades. Without an all-out mobilization from Democrats and progressives, Republicans could vastly change the nature of Iowa policies and culture without paying a price.

Whether you agree or disagree with having moved the IDP chair vote back to late January, one consequence of it is that a new team will come in weeks after the legislative session has begun. They’ll have to immediately implement a communications and grassroots activist strategy to push back against the Republican legislature. The outrage over extreme legislation the GOP will try to pass is also the perfect chance to build the party’s lists and engage new volunteers around specific issues. If the new chair spends their first few months having long conversations with constituency caucuses about party building ideas instead of actually leading them into battle at the Statehouse, the party will have missed out on a very unique opportunity.

I have so far seen little to no discussion from the chair candidates over what they’d do in their first two weeks or how they would approach this monumentally important legislative session. That needs to become a priority, fast.

There’s a number of other topics I could toss out as well, like: how do we keep the Iowa Caucus, what’s the longterm communications plan to defeat Joni Ernst in 2020 (you can’t wait until that year to run a full effort to defeat her), how can the party expand its donor base with the doctors at the university hospital in Iowa City, how can we win back Libertarian and Green voters, will we target specific municipal elections in 2017, how do we get incumbent legislators to turn out their districts better, and are we ever going to get a new IDP headquarters office that isn’t a complete dump?

The issues discussed during the IDP chair race so far are important ones. At this point I think everyone agrees that we need to run candidates in as many places as possible, we need to do something about VAN accessibility, we need to better involve the constituency caucuses, and we need to “communicate” better and “listen” (whatever those vague terms mean to each individual).

But now’s the time to expand the dialogue, because there’s a ton more challenges that the next IDP chair will have to confront, some of which (in my opinion) are more pressing than those currently discussed. 2017 and 2018 could be years of great opportunity for Iowa Democrats, or they could be years of debilitating defeat that sets the party back a decade or more. We need to make sure the next chair – and the party that will support him or her – is fully prepared for everything the IDP has to do going forward.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 12/23/16

12 Comments on "Many Important Topics Missing From IDP Chair Discussion"

  • President Obama abandoned one of Americas closest allies today, Israel. He chose the side of terrorist nations and American opponents over the only democracy in the Middle East voting against Israel at the United Nations.

    The Democratic Party can no longer be trusted by the American people. Hillary Clinton favored open borders meaning she favors non-citizens over citizens. Democrats favor sanctuary cities harboring criminal illegal aliens over American citizens. This behavior shows that Democrats do not support the rule of law and democracy any longer.

  • I agree that much has been left out of the discussion when we meet as a group, much of which is a function of time allotted for the chair candidates. At the forum last Saturday we had 15 minutes for both our speech and Q&A. It’s very hard to cover the complexity of the issues facing the IDP in that short amount of time. The other forums we’ve been in have given us 1 minute to answer questions. In person discussions have been lasting 1 -2 hours and those discussions have been much more substantive. Perhaps Iowa Starting Line could suggest another format to allow the candidates more time to address the questions.

  • Thanks for giving me more questions to ask candidates. I would have appreciated having access to these before the IDP Chair candidate forum on the 17th, though. If I’d had them then, I would have done my best to make sure the questions were well-distributed amongst the SCC members so they would have had an increased chance of being asked and answered.

  • I do sincerely appreciate these questions and your mathematical analysis of particular legislative districts, and thank you for your insights. They are quite valuable.

  • I am sure the candidates for chair have opinions and feelings on issues but right now the focus needs to be in someone who has the experience, knowledge and political maturity to do the job as chair.

    • While Democratic strategies for winning back Iowa by area of the state was apparently what was talked about most at IDP chair race, I think that ignores the elephant in the room. Democratic platforms and candidates are mush….you just find the middle of any argument and use that as your position. The following is part of an email I replied to a relative who was a Hillary backer as she was blaming anyone but the DNC and Hillary for losing to someone (Trump) who should have been beatable by anyone.

      As for politics…….for me it’s the same fight I’ve been fighting since the 60’s and early 70’s. “Where have all the flowers gone?” We’re still here! We still believe in books not bombs, peace not war, love not hate, equality and justice for all people. And the red necks we fought against back then are still here too. So the fight goes on.
      I absolutely blame the DNC for losing the election. They groomed Hillary for 12 years to “make” her President. But she was part of the problem and not the solution. She was still part of the “establishment” and happy to be so. She had little conviction and was prone to change positions with the political winds. In short, the DNC tried to ram a candidate who was not forthcoming and in some cases just a plain liar, and someone who the public just didn’t like or trust, down Democrats and the electorates throats. The DNC worked against Bernie and anyone else who threatened their preordained Presidential candidate. I voted for Hillary but it was the hardest vote I ever cast as I knew she was bad news, the same old crap from the establishment, but I couldn’t vote for a third party candidate again as I felt I had to do my part to try and stop Trump from becoming President. I voted for Obama the first time only. He got elected and we were all excited about finally getting some “change you can believe in”. Turned out he was more Republican than Progressive. His pitiful buckling to the Republicans and fat cat bankers when the banking crisis hit was when I gave up on him. During Obama’s first run, Pelosi came out and stated she wouldn’t investigate the Bushies for their war crimes. It was obviously because she feared that would hurt his chances to be elected. Apparently she forgot about her sworn oath to uphold the constitution and laws of this country. That’s when the democrats lost me because she clearly put her party before her country. Pelosi needs to go. The Bushies should still be investigated/prosecuted. It took Germany a long time to face up to the holocaust and it’s obviously going to take a long time for Americans to do the same for our war crimes. When Obama didn’t deliver on “change you can believe in” and Hillary and the DNC represented the same old politics, people finally had enough. Even the Republicans had had enough of the status quo as out of 16 candidates they chose the most anti establishment candidate in the field, Trump, to the dismay of the Republican establishment. “The Republicans suck, the Democrats are about as bad, neither of them care more about me than their party” was the prevailing thought of the electorate this election and I think that was/is accurate. A vote for Trump in many cases was simply the electorate giving the establishment the finger. Better to take a chance on Trump than vote once again for the system that constantly sells us out, screws us over.
      Well, that’s this old hippie, peacenick, progressives take on the election. I too am guilty of not participating enough in supporting, campaigning for those I’d like to see in office but a big part of that was not having candidates that aren’t part of the problem to back. Todays Democrats are about ten miles to the right of where Democrats were in 1972 and that’s not acceptable to me. Democrats deserve the weakling, pussies label they have. Democrats are capable of kicking ass as good as any republican but the Democratic party is void of leaders who believe that save for the few like Bernie and Warren, and they’re suppressed instead of backed by the party machine. I was a Bernie backer and think he could’ve beat Trump had the DNC and the press given him fair treatment. I will back the most progressive candidate I can find 4 years from now. Hopefully the Democrats will wake up and fight for a progressive candidate who’ll put people first and turn their backs on those who put party first. It can happen. The tea party ousted the entrenched Republicans for better or worse and the Democrats can do the same. They could start by eliminating “superdelegates” altogether and let the primary voters decide who delegates vote for instead of rigging it so it’s almost impossible to not have the candidate the DNC wants win. Superdelegates came into play after progressive candidate McGovern got routed and the DNC decided that they had more wisdom than those they claimed to represent and needed to make sure the dumb Democrats didn’t choose a candidate again who would lose so badly. Of course, that’s not a democratic thing to do at all. It’s arrogance on their part and that’s as good a place to start rebuilding the Democratic party as any. Peace, Kent

      If you want to make an omelet you have to crack a few eggs. That means getting rid of a lot of the people running the IDP and the DNC. Time to break the Democratic view that the middle of the road is the best place to be, find some courage and QUIT COMPROMISING on everything. People will stand, fight, and vote with you if you have progressive ideas and the courage of your convictions. That’s what the Republicans did and their backers were very enthused. The Democrats were like…same old, same old middle of the road crap I don’t like.
      The midterms won’t change much nationally but by the time Trump is up for reelection (unless the Republicans in Washington can’t stand him either, and impeach him. They’d be much happier with President Pence instead) the Republicans will have rammed so many right wing laws through they will be very vulnerable nationally and statewide. Medicare, Medicaid, the environment(clean water, wind energy, ethanol for Iowa), equal rights, and on and on will be attacked by Republicans as they falsely think they won because people actually back their crazy positions but it wasn’t that, it was just the electorate having had enough of the status quo. The IDP needs new faces, not the same old “experienced” ones that have failed.

      p.s. I live in Council Bluffs and we always feel we’re more part of Nebraska than Iowa and that Des Moines ignores us. I think it’s because we’re in the Omaha TV market and our local paper is a Republican rag so very little money spent on Democratic ads here. I understand that, it is expensive. The answer? Candidates need to get in their car and come here and campaign hard. This is a blue collar town and I can’t figure out why it keeps going Republican but a candidates strong, repeated campaigning here would go a long way to turn that around. Mike Gronstal lives a block from me and look how successful his political life was….proof Democrats can win here. We liked it when we’d read a headline saying something like “Gronstal blocks Republican bill that would reduce state funding for education”. I blame the DNC for his and many other Democrats losses.

  • My question to these candidates would be something like this: What do you say to the people behind the counter at the convenience store? Come to Muscatine. Walk into a Casey’s or KnG. Talk to the 55 yr old woman who is divorced, maybe has a live in boyfriend for no reason other than another shitty paycheck, helps support her grandkids and looks at the 2-3 packs a day she smokes as her only reward for working for peanuts. What do you say to a woman like that? How will YOU convince her that school board elections and legislative agendas have any impact whatsoever in her life? And while you’re at it, what will you say to her customers….like the guy in his early 20’s who lives at home, has a kid who lives at his girlfriend’s mom’s house, has been working the same temp job for 2 years with a promise of benefits, and lives on Red Bull and Busch Light? What do you say to him to make him feel a part of the IDP’s economic agenda. The democrats didn’t lose because they lost touch with working Iowans; they lost because they pay at the pump and don’t know these people exist.

  • We Democrats have dropped the ball on several levels. At one time the Young Democrats were a viable and involved organization of high school and college age kids who provided an element of energy and determination that inspired others to work harder and longer for causes and candidates .The cultural and financial divides which exist in Iowa are very real and cannot be ignored. Poverty and the lack of jobs are of greater concern in areas where factories and local businesses that once provided employment and decent income for many, no longer exist. Democrats cannot look the other way and pretend this is not a part of the problems we face. Have we become a part of the political world of a hierarchy of the elite who rule? There were many new faces in attendance at our rural county convention last winter. If we are cultivating the young and interested people, I have not seen or heard much activity meant to inspire a new Democrat. Perhaps we need to review the old play books of the ’60’s and find what elements were successful. Young, vibrant and “with it” candidates with brains and charisma are hard to find but are out there but when an old guy like Trump can turn pop culture into a winning campaign it would seem that bright young people with a genuine heart for fellow citizens and our society could do even more. Young women are a force that should not be ignored. One of Hillary’s strengths and one of her weaknesses, was that she is female. Not fair, but still a reason in Iowa for not voting for her. Trump’s mean spirited and dishonest rants were also effective in voter choice. I do not advocate that we follow this pattern, but we do need to learn more from the science or art of communicating with the modern public.

  • All of the discussions have good points. That said it appears that what many see us is dissonance and a lack of inclusion. If we can get on the same page we can win. The repubs are killing us and they know what they are doing. Including younger members would be a good start. Older “experienced” folks is a kinda good idea but in my estimation, most are tired and not viable candidates anymore. We can’t be insane and keep doing the same thing and think we’ll have a different outcome. The more mature members turn off the young members and cause them to feel disenfranchised with the party. The more mature members would be wonderful coaches to a young group. You wouldn’t believe the number of young Bernie Sanders supporters that believe that the DNC threw the candidacy to favor Hillary. They then dropped out, tuned out, and gave up. Most didn’t even vote. I talk to many of them and they just don’t care. They don’t think that they aren’t being heard. We have a new generation that we need to be involved. We need to heal past wounds get on the same page and get this show on the road. NOW. repubs have people or surrogates set up on the UNI campus frequently. Dems not so much, why not? Let’s get our shit together, get people on the street to gain name recognition and take back the lead that we can.

  • Now that the Clinton’s have been dispatched, I believe all dems (especially Iowa dems) have an opportunity. From my perspective, DNC spent the last 15 years actually discouraging young progressives who might threaten Hillary’s chances. My niece worked for the Iowa Obama efforts in ’08. She’s very smart and not overly idealistic. She tells me the pure vitriol and crap from DNC and their backers made it completely impossible for her to continue in ’10 and ’12.
    The old pros pissed off the young turks and installed Judge and other weak candidates nationwide for this cycle.
    I understand DNC support is probably a must-have for Iowa dems but you might as well stay home if candidates that IOWANS deem supportable are torpedo’d by DWS, Schumer, Pelosi et. al.
    I’m a native Iowan who just returned home after 30 years in the SF Bay area teaching. I can tell you Pelosi has no idea you guys exist out here.
    That’s not necessarily a bad thing if Iowa Dems refuse to abandon those who WE know have walked the walk.
    DNC CorporaDem candidates are pretty big here but if you don’t shake ’em and reconnect with that 7-11 worker described above (and her kids in school) you may as well just go to baconfest and forget about it.
    btw: Should Hatch take a second shot at being Governor? (I’m serious) Someone tell me.

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