Many of Democrats’ elected officials at all level of Iowa government will look a lot younger if things go well this November. A new generation of young Democrats won primaries and secured nominations in last night’s primary in key races across the state. Half of Iowa Democrats’ congressional candidates will be under 40. As will half of their non-incumbent statewide candidates. And exciting, young Democrats prevailed in several local legislative primaries that will ensure them a seat at the Statehouse.
That all is no small feat in a state with a much older population that often prefers to vote for longtime incumbents and their fellow baby-boomers. And it will serve as major hope for the future for a state Democratic Party that was growing increasingly concerned about their shallow bench of up-and-coming stars. Indeed, as Democrats ponder who to run for U.S. Senate, Congress and statewide races over the next decade or two, they may well look back at class of 2018 candidates for their talent pool.
Some are already poised to make history in big races. Abby Finkenauer, 28, dominated her four-way primary last night and would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she defeats Rod Blum in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. Deidre DeJear, 32, won a close race for Democrats’ secretary of state nomination, and could become Iowa’s first black statewide elected official. Activists online shared their enthusiasm for DeJear’s win last night; she’s proven to be an inspiring speaker that has many ready to volunteer for her campaign.
J.D. Scholten, 38, prevailed in a three-way primary with 51% of the vote in his bid to take on Steve King. A former baseball player, Scholten has already gained a lot national news coverage for his outside-the-box approach to his candidacy.
At the state legislative level, Zach Wahls’ victory may be the most important in terms of long-term potential for Democrats. The nationally-known 26-year-old broke fundraising records in his primary for Senate District 37 (Johnson and Cedar counties). He raised about $130,000, mostly from online donations, and is expected to be a top fundraiser for the party who can help raise money for Democrats’ key swing district races.
Most importantly, people in Iowa and beyond are just simply excited for his potential in state government and the party. He’ll be the youngest member of the Senate by far. Wahls will likely be a sought-after speaker for Democrats around the state. He’s expected to establish himself as a leader in the Iowa Senate and could easily set himself up for a run for Congress or statewide office in the years to come.
Another potential future star won her primary in Dubuque last night. Lindsay James, 37, came out on top in a three-way race that was filled with other under-40 Democrats. A pastor who is at ease with linking progressive policies with religious teachings, she will be one to watch at the Statehouse.
Meanwhile, other young Democrats officially captured the party’s nomination yesterday even though they had no primary competition. Rob Sand, 35, is Democrats’ candidate for state auditor, and he’s already impressed with his fundraising prowess and messaging against the Republican incumbent. He could settle into a long career in the auditor’s job, but some Democrats have hopes he may consider an even bigger statewide office. Tim Gannon, the party’s nominee for secretary of agriculture, is 42.
And back on the legislative level, Kayla Koether, 28, and Megan Srinivas, 31, are attracting attention for their runs in key swing districts. Koether, who grew up on a farm and now specializes in helping farmers with their business plans, is running in the Decorah-based House seat. Srinivas, a Harvard-educated doctor, is trying to hold on to Democrats’ Fort Dodge district. Democrats across the state are watching their races very closely.
Probably not every one of Democrats’ under-40 candidates will prevail in November unless there’s an exceptionally big blue wave. But this crop of younger contenders are well-positioned to succeed both in 2018 and become leaders for years to come. After multiple cycles of seeing promising talent snuffed out in Republican wave elections, Democrats should finally rebuild their bench in 2018, lift up exciting young stars and give the party hope for the future.
by Pat Rynard