The Iowa Democratic Party has been conducting a 2016 post-election postmortem on why they lost rural Iowa so badly. One recommendation resurfaces in every one of these autopsies conducted over these losses. The suggestion is that urban Democrats must listen to the needs of rural Iowans if they ever expect to gain their votes.
However, one rural Iowan warns Democrats it will take more than fake listening and feigned concern to reconnect with rural Iowa. Doug Burns, co-owner of the Carroll Daily Times Herald writes a column, “Taking Note,” for the Herald’s editorial page. Burns also writes the “Political Mercury” column for Des Moines’ Cityview newspaper. As a fourth generation newspaper man living and working in the heart of Steve King country, Democrats should pay close attention to Burn’s warnings. In a recent column, Burns offers a harsh reality check to urban Democrats about how rural Iowa views them.
“Rural Iowa faces challenges, many of them threatening our very survival as viable economic communities, and the Democratic Party, rather than genuinely connecting with us, dispatches urban candidates (and worse, surrogates) bubbling over with condescension and smugness,” Burns wrote earlier this month. “The only way it could be worse is if the Democrats sent tenured poetry professors or street mimes to our towns to campaign for their party’s initiatives.”
“You can feel this, sense it. Even leathery-skinned veterans of the public square like me find the attitudes of too many current Democrats, from Des Moines to New York to California, unbearably dismissive,” he continued. “They point fingers rather than offering a hand in goodwill. The Democrats lecture and fake listen. And they can’t hide their disdain, their amusement at rural Iowa. It’s as if they are visiting the zoo, gathering tidbits on our country ways, for later sport at our expense with friends over drinks in the Central West End of St. Louis or The Big Apple’s Brooklyn Heights — once these city Democrats, you know, skip out to Omaha or Des Moines before returning to their super-hip enclaves where people are more familiar with the cuts and recovery of gender-transition surgeries than slaughtering hogs or combining corn.”
Burns isn’t the first journalist to warn Democrats about taking rural Iowa for granted. Others have warned Democrats about their seeming exclusive focus on all their constituency caucuses while ignoring rural blue collar voters.
If Democrats want to regain these voters, Burns offers a very simple message
“People vote their own interests. Full stop. Not enough Iowans cast ballots simply because they are offended for black people and Latinos,” Burns wrote.
Democrats didn’t offer these rural blue collar voters any hope of improving their economic situation. Burns offers advice on where King is vulnerable and it’s not by attacking his racism.
“Here’s the opening, though: King is not serving in Iowa’s interest on matters having nothing to do with race. He’s gone Washington, D.C., fancy. That’s the terrain on which Democrats must engage him. King may be supremely white and fantastically European, but he’s no longer one of us in the way we desperately need our congressman to be.”
Congressman Loebsack and the Iowa Democratic Party established the Building Blocks Committee following the 2016 election to “review campaign tactics and messaging in order to figure out improvements for future campaign cycles.” It’s basically a rural Iowa listening tour in search of a message that will resonate with these rural blue collar voters.
Democrats are right; listening is essential, but once rural needs are identified it must translate into policies that promise to improve rural Iowans’ economic wellbeing. Democrats must propose real economic solutions that restore Iowa small towns, bring good paying jobs and improve the incomes of rural Iowans. If Democrats turn listening into action they may be able to win back rural voters.
by Rick Smith