With the unexpected departure of Derek Eadon from the Iowa Democratic Party’s top job due to health reasons, Democrats face another big, uncertain election. Last January’s election for IDP chair was the first time in a very long time where an actual competition for the position took place. Typically the top Democratic incumbent, like Tom Harkin or Tom Vilsack, hand-picked the chair. It’s very likely the party will be in for another crowded free-for-all on July 22, when the State Central Committee meets to choose Eadon’s replacement.
So who might run?
The progressive wing of the party is tossing around ideas and would like to see one of their own take up the reigns of the state organization. Laura Hubka, a Bernie Sanders backer who ran for a Iowa House seat and is on the SCC, is being discussed and would probably be a strong contender who has some cross-over support. Evan Burger, who worked for Sanders in Iowa and helped run Blair Lawton’s bid for chair in January, is being mentioned as well.
The name that’s being suggested in many Democratic circles is Sioux City State Representative Chris Hall (pictured above). He’s been talked about as a potential statewide candidate this year, perhaps for Secretary of State, though others would like to see him run against Rick Bertrand for the Iowa Senate in the swing district there. Hall – one of the most respected lawmakers at the Statehouse – could pitch his fundraising experience and his messaging efforts on behalf of the House Democrats.
Bill Brauch is being pitched by some as well. He used to work in Attorney General Tom Miller’s office and serves on the SCC. He garnered a lot of respect from his calm, effective running of district and state conventions in 2016. That type of skill might be particularly useful if it appears the Democratic gubernatorial primary is headed for a convention next year. [Update: Brauch has told friends he will run.]
And it sounds like Matt Paul is seriously considering a run for chair. He was a longtime Tom Vilsack aide who worked in the governor’s office and at USDA. Paul ran Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Caucus campaign in 2016 and would bring significant experience running large operations as well as a full phone book of useful contacts around the country.
Of the other seven people who ran for chair in January, Bleeding Heartland reports that Kurt Meyer and Julie Stauch are considering running again, while Blair Lawton and Kim Weaver are not. Both would tout their skill sets of running large organizations and fundraising before, and would argue they could get the party back on its feet very quickly. Stauch, who withdrew shortly before the vote in January, would likely get a much closer look this time without some of the candidates in it who ran previously.
When it comes to the other three former candidates, Sandy Dockendorf was recently named as one of the winners of this year’s Outstanding State Central Committee Member for the IDP’s Hall of Fame dinner. She’s still well-respected on the at-time fractious SCC. Mike Gronstal has been relatively quiet since his loss in January. His early endorsement of Andy McGuire for governor, who has a fair share of detractors on the SCC, would cause him problems in another try (and I would also have something to say as well).
One thing that may not go over too well in the July election: overly divisive campaigns. Many within the party are exhausted over the constant rehashing of the 2016 election. Many activists do want to see a big change in strategy, especially as we approach the crucial 2018 governor’s race, but are getting tired of constantly refighting the past election. Language couched in certain terms from the 2016 primary might not go over too well.
Part of what damaged Lawton’s chances from winning in January was the negative attacks that some of his supporters threw at other Democrats. The Sanders faction did not have an outright majority on the SCC, so such a strategy only pushed people away and made it difficult to get a majority. There is absolutely a way to make the case that the party has gone in the wrong direction and needs drastic change – including ideologically – that can be pitched as forward-thinking and inclusive instead of re-litigating past battles.
On the flip side of that, however: anyone who’s running that’s not from the Sanders wing will have to be very convincing in showing people they want to change how the party operates, whether it be messaging, candidate focus or fundraising. There’s a very real concern from many Democrats – especially the Sanders supporters – that the party has simply not learned many lessons from 2016 and is content on doing the same thing over again. Competency in the job will certainly be important, but so will a vision that reassures activists that something will be different in 2018.
by Pat Rynard