Can We Start Focusing On The More Winnable Races Now?

Kim Weaver’s candidacy has ended, and a follow-up story from the Des Moines Register raised serious questions about her reasoning for doing so. But whatever, it’s time to move on.

Hopefully, part of moving on for Iowa Democratic activists will be a renewed focus on the 1st and 3rd congressional districts. Barring something incredibly dramatic, those two races will be much closer than the deep-red 4th District. And their outcome could very well determine whether Democrats retake the U.S. House and thus are able to launch actual investigations into the Trump Administration.

One could make a very compelling argument that the congressional races in Iowa this year are second in importance to the governor’s race. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to retake the House majority. There are 23 seats won by Hillary Clinton currently held by Republicans. If Democrats were to pick up one or two of these Iowa seats – both won by Trump by four points – the party could be well on its way to victory. Due to which U.S. Senate seats are up in 2018, it’s unlikely Democrats retake that chamber.

As a report showed earlier this year, the 1st District has a D+1 partisan index, while the 3rd District is R+1. King’s 4th District is R+11. Dave Loebsack’s 2nd District is D+1, but he doesn’t have a serious opponent yet (though he certainly will eventually).

Yes, Weaver got 38.6% last year, just a point below Jim Mowrer’s 39.7% in the 3rd in 2016. But it’s still below 40%, and Mowrer got hit with millions of dollars of negative ads. Not to mention Democrats have represented the 1st and 3rd areas of the state as recently as 2014 and 2012, respectively. Point being, it is very clear that Democrats have a better shot in the 1st and 3rd than in Western Iowa’s 4th. So would it not make more sense for the party and its activists to expend more of their energy there?

This is all by no means to suggest we don’t still need a good candidate in the 4th District and that we need to support that person. Obviously, there is still an outside shot of taking down King in a wave year with an outstanding candidate. Obviously, a compelling congressional contender there helps Democrats up and down the ballot. Obviously, King needs to be opposed in some way to hold him accountable for his insane beliefs.

It’s just that I often see ten times the online chatter and enthusiasm for taking on King than I do for defeating David Young and Rod Blum, the much easier targets. It’s understandable given King’s racist statements, but at some point we have to focus on the races most likely to be close, and direct our donations and volunteer efforts there. Putting King in the minority in the House is pretty damn important, even if outright defeating him would feel oh so much better.

However, that is simply a humble suggestion to the state’s Democratic activists, take it or leave it. And that brings me to another point I think is important to make about the 4th District and level of enthusiasm for certain campaigns.

Many Democratic insiders have been frustrated in recent cycles with just how much attention and passion the long-shot candidates running against King have gotten in comparison to the much-closer swing districts. Throughout his years in Congress, King has won by 62%, 63%, 59%, 60%, 66%, 53%, 62% and 61%. Aside from the Christie Vilsack race in 2012, it hasn’t been close. And yet year after year, everyone always wants to talk about how we’re going to finally defeat Steve King.

Many people I know were particularly exasperated with the reaction to Weaver’s candidacy, who they didn’t see as a serious candidate. But whenever someone mentioned that complaint to me, I shot back with this: maybe our candidates in the swing seats should run more interesting races like Kim Weaver is.

Weaver did not draw attention to her race solely by making hay of King’s incendiary statements. And Weaver did not do that well at raising money in 2016, but she became an exceptionally strong speaker on the stump and engaged her large volunteer network through social media. Every single day Iowa Democratic activists saw on Facebook what the Weaver campaign was doing, and got fun personal updates from Weaver herself. Most of the communication they got from the DCCC-targeted races were professional campaign videos more directed at swing voters or ridiculous fundraising email subject lines.

DCCC-run campaigns do great jobs of raising money, hiring professional staff, conducting polling and sometimes creating good ads (though sometimes the ads suck). But they’ve boiled down the process of running to such an exact science that many times their candidates come off as aloof and robotic to the party’s activist core.

It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You can both get the candidate to do the call time needed to raise millions of dollars while also doing fun, creative social media outreach that keeps activists, volunteers and small donors engaged.

Some campaign professionals recoil at a candidate doing much social media posting on their own, pointing to crippling mistakes made in other races. I think they’re just not being creative enough or prioritizing it right. There is absolutely no reason you can’t have a campaign in which your candidate expresses their personality more online, while still have a review process where a staffer vetoes overly silly or incendiary post ideas.

We’ve got some great congressional candidates already in or considering. Abby Finkenauer and Courtney Rowe have announced for the 1st District, while Stacey Walker, Tom Heckroth and Jeff Danielson are thinking about it. In the 3rd District, you’ve got Cindy Axne and Anna Ryon running, with Pete D’Alessandro and Theresa Greenfield considering.

Iowa’s Democratic activist base should take a closer look at those candidates and find someone to get excited about. Because we have to win those races if we ever hope to hold Trump actually accountable. And remember: the AHCA only passed the House by two votes. Without Young and Blum there, it would have failed.

But it’s also up to those Democratic candidates in the swing districts to run a campaign that people can actually get excited about. 2018 is too important for anything less.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 6/5/17

5 Comments on "Can We Start Focusing On The More Winnable Races Now?"

  • Your column today hit’s home on all point’s. As a lifelong Democrat I am not interested in any wishy-washy candidate or their willingness to give up what that stands for. I think brutal telling of the facts re current policies just in will help and perhaps realizing the long-term effects to our own families. As to Rep. King–it is not shocking to hear one more voice continuously screaming “pay attention to me” nowadays is it?

  • I only question you saying there is no serious candidate yet. Anna Ryon and Heather Ryan are in and Pete D’Alesandro is close to announcing. I would be honored to vote for any one of them. Just because they are not establishment dems don’t count them out. It’s the “establishment” Dems that have lost their way and don’t connect with the voters anymore…time for new blood…you can have your “serious candidates.” I have no faith in them.

  • Strong campaigns come from People Power, not professional consultants. How much longer must we rely on professional campaign consultants? The strategies of these supposed “geniuses” have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for Democrats time after time after time…

  • It would help if Democrats would get back to supporting a Democratic Farm Bill, which features minimum farm price floors, (similar to living wage,) instead of subsidies. The Republicans have been bad for the farm economy at both state and federal levels, subsidizing CAFOs and other countries with below cost exports, leading then to a reduced rate of wealth creation for rural areas. Iowa net farm income has gone down under these policies, as farm income has come more from low value crops and less from value added livestock.

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