According to a report in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Todd Prichard is on track to be the next leader for the Iowa House Democrats. That’s a very good thing.
Democrats in Iowa face a lot of challenges as they head into another two years of all-Republican control of state government. The party made important gains in last week’s elections by turning the suburbs blue, increasing base turnout, flipping two congressional seats, winning the State Auditor race and capturing some new state legislative districts.
But two big sticking points remain for Democrats in their quests for top-of-ticket statewide wins and legislative majorities: rural areas and blue-collar counties.
Prichard knows both of those places well.
He grew up in a working-poor family on the west side of Davenport. As he told Starting Line early last year, his parents “were very hard workers, but never made any money.” He later joined the Army and then National Guard, and served two tours of duty, one of them in Iraq.
Prichard moved to Charles City as he and his wife started a family, and there he started up his own law firm. He ran for and won a special election for House District 52 (Floyd and Chickasaw counties) in 2013 and has remained there since. He’s now one of a very few remaining Democrats who still represent a mostly-rural district in the Iowa House.
At age 44, Prichard is also one of the younger members in the House (as I’ve joked with him before, as long as you’re under 50 in Iowa Democratic politics, you’re considered a “young Democrat”). But most importantly, he should provide a fresh and unique perspective to the party once he takes on the leadership role.
As we saw in last week’s elections, both in Iowa and around the country, it was often those younger or new-to-politics candidates who were most successful. Iowa made history with its first two female members of the U.S. House, Abby Finkenauer being the second-youngest woman ever elected to the chamber. Rob Sand was the only challenger candidate to break through the Republican statewide wall. First-time candidates ousted entrenched incumbents or won open seats in House races (some second-time candidates, too).
And it wasn’t just the candidates. New blood in major county parties’ activist core helped produce huge vote margins for Democrats out of urban centers. Young people at college campuses smashed turnout totals from four years ago, with students standing in line until after 11:00 PM at ISU to cast their vote on election night.
The Democratic Party in Iowa is changing. Many of its most-notable leaders today are not who were in charge even four years prior. The energy and momentum is coming from new people and new places. That’s a good thing, since the party has to change in order to adjust to the shifting voting trends and partisan allegiances in the state under Donald Trump.
Prichard is well-suited to take on exactly those challenges. A rural war veteran with a blue-collar city upbringing is just the kind of profile Democrats could use in the news to reassure skeptical voters that they can trust the party again.
It’s also noteworthy that he isn’t exactly the safest choice. Kim Reynolds won Prichard’s district by a roughly 55% to 42% margin. Trump won it 57% to 38%. Prichard faced no Republican opponent this year, and even though he’s a strong, well-liked incumbent, who knows if he would have survived the red rural wave. Democrats could go with someone from a safe blue district, but then you’d miss out on Prichard’s profile and perspective. And these days in politics, it seems like the less-safe bets are paying off.
Prichard’s run for governor came to an abrupt end when he couldn’t raise the funds in a crowded field, but he’ll face a much different environment as he dials for dollars for House Democrats. Though the party didn’t flip the House this year, their operation was highly-regarded behind the scenes, and they made enough gains to put Democrats in a position to capture the majority next cycle. And if House Democrats are to retake that majority, they have to pick up some of those Scott County seats and the winnable rural districts – just the places Prichard knows best.
Democrats meet on Saturday to hold their elections. Hopefully two years from now, they’ll be electing a Speaker Prichard.
by Pat Rynard