Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee for 2018 will not simply be the most important name on the ballot. He or she will also be the defacto leader of the party in a state that hasn’t really had one since Tom Harkin’s retirement in 2014.
They have a very big task ahead of them.
To say the Democratic Party in Iowa is in a weakened state would be an understatement. The party has not merely lost a significant amount of major elections in recent years. No, the very infrastructure of the left in Iowa is tattered and lacking.
There has been few proactive build-the-bench efforts for years. Important Democratic counties have underperforming local parties. Qualified, experienced campaign staffers don’t stick around due to a lack of jobs. The last Iowa Caucus produced more division than new activists.
And Democratic legislators representing deep blue districts do little to turn out their base to benefit the top-of-ticket, with many having no local political operation to speak of. Any longtime elected official should be able to produce a dozen door-knocking volunteers at the drop of a hat – not many in Iowa can do so.
On that last topic, the two most recent major statewide primaries should be a source of embarrassment for Democratic lawmakers. In the 2006 gubernatorial primary with Mike Blouin and Chet Culver, as well as the 2016 senate primary with Rob Hogg and Patty Judge, legislators nearly unanimously backed the loser. In both instances a better-known name and more funding easily trumped the overwhelming amount of endorsements of the state’s Democratic elected officials.
So the question should be asked, why would anything be different in 2018?
Over the next several months, the leading contenders for Democrats’ gubernatorial nomination will be working hard behind the scenes to rack up endorsements from elected officials, activists, unions and progressive organizations. In years past, that courtship has included promises of promoting certain issues, hints of receiving positions in a future administration and the occasional outright begging.
This is a good place to start reversing the culture of Iowa Democratic politics.
If I were a candidate for governor seeking an elected Democratic official’s endorsement, here’s what I’d ask them:
- What day will you hold a local fundraiser for me and how much can we expect to raise?
- Which of your top donors can you arrange a sit-down or call with me?
- How many volunteers can you provide to my campaign?
- How many votes can your team deliver in your district?
If they can’t answer those questions to satisfaction, I’d tell them to take a hike. Go endorse the other person. Who cares about names on a press release if they don’t bring you any votes other than their own?
Democrats need a massive team effort to win back control and stave off armageddon for the party in Iowa. And if you can’t contribute to the team, then you shouldn’t be a part of it.
Simply put, the next Democratic gubernatorial nominee needs to crack the whip on some of the lazier elements of this party. 2018 is do-or-die time, and if the Republican actions of this legislative session don’t motivate you to do more, than perhaps the prospect of being perpetually in the minority in Iowa will.
Because that’s exactly what will happen if every single elected official, local party leader and activist doesn’t do literally everything they can this cycle to win back Terrace Hill.
We are nearing the point of no return in Iowa. Hopefully everyone sees that at this point – if not, they need to be convinced, quickly.
Democrats need a strong leader in 2018 not just to appeal to voters, but to revitalize this state party by implementing some discipline in the ranks. Only then, as one unified team where all play their part, can this Republican tide be reversed.
by Pat Rynard