A guest post from Jeremy Dumkrieger, chair of the Woodbury County Democrats
Dear Democratic Party Chairs of Iowa,
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to attend a round table meeting with Beto O’Rourke. Afterward, my inner caucus nerd came out and asked if he would sign my “Beto for Senate” button; he did so graciously. I put it on my lapel to keep it safe and headed upstairs to join the rally. On the way, I bumped into a good Democrat who saw the button and expressed shock saying, “You’re sure as hell not endorsing…?” I explained my button collection and he ended it with, “Good, we’ve had enough trouble with that shit.”
As a Democrat in Iowa, I can’t lie and say I don’t have my favorites among the candidates running for President. I do. Yet, because of my role as Chair of the Woodbury County Democrats, I have the responsibility to lead an even-handed mechanism for those folks running for president.
More importantly, I must keep the faith of those choosing our nominee, the people who elected me, the Democrats of Woodbury County. They expect the caucus to work for everyone and each expects their leader to refrain from allowing personal beliefs to conflict with the system.
I do not believe county chairs should endorse presidential candidates. To build that trust, I will not be endorsing anyone for President.
What Is There To Gain From Making An Endorsement?
Iowa Democratic Party Chairs have one of the most important political jobs in the country this cycle. As elected officials, we must set the tone for choosing our nominee. If we endorse a candidate, local Dems may head into caucus night believing our thumbs are on the scale. No matter the winner, the party will lose.
If we get this caucus wrong, the consequences are dire and losing our status as first in the nation will be the least of our problems. (We could return Donald Trump to the White House for another four years.) If we are unified, transparent, and fair, few will be able to question our caucus process. We cannot risk confirming the fears that we are anything but fair and we cannot justify false beliefs that outcomes are predetermined because chairs have an opinion to share.
Additionally, we must protect the integrity of the caucus because we need it to renew and rebuild our county parties at every level. Our neighborhood organizing and our local elections all depend on a smooth trustworthy caucus to build confidence. Endorsing a candidate for President could damage our ability to draw good faith from lifelong members and could alienate new Democrats interested in becoming long-term activists.
Do I believe a chair can endorse someone and be even-handed? Yes, but this is politics, and perception is everything.
Mistakes Become Sinister Deeds
I’m not perfect; I make mistakes. I’m notorious for listing the wrong month; if it’s April, I’ll write May; if it’s May, I’ll write June. I can’t text or post without making typos. (I have stumps for thumbs.) I probably cause a lot of eye rolls but no one thinks these minor mistakes have sinister undertones.
Imagine I have endorsed a candidate. As chair, I am constantly being asked by campaigns to inform the public and get folks to their events. What if I bungled one of these requests? What if I sent the Woodbury Dems the wrong information and confused everyone about when and where this event was happening? Would it look like a mistake or could it lead people to think I may have misled people on purpose?
Opinions will vary, but odds are my dumb mistake just became a sinister deed in the eyes of that campaign. I would rather people think I have stumpy thumbs than think I was a petty and small man.
You’ll Lose Trust
Local Democrats are going to be divided on who they will want as their nominee and that’s great. It takes a village of voices to make a choir but they will need one person in their local party to turn to for help and advice in organizing and support.
Here in Sioux City, folks will likely have dozens of campaign staffers to turn to but this isn’t the case across Iowa. For many, the county chair will be the main contact for caucus questions. They must trust you will help them without prejudice.
Would a first-time caucus volunteer be likely to ask questions about how to best host a house party for Julian Castro if their party chair endorsed another candidate? I wouldn’t have made that ask; it’s not welcoming. In fact, it’s intimidating. Our job is to build the party and that means sacrificing your public opinion on who should be our nominee for President.
It’s Awkward… I Know…
This is where I admit hypocrisy. During the 2018 primary, I endorsed J.D. Scholten for Congress. I dragged my feet about it because I constantly preached my belief in neutrality by county and district chairs, especially after all the perceptions of the 2016 race. Eventually, I endorsed Scholten; after all, he and I have a shared history. He was the hometown kid, he was on the WCDP Central Committee, we both went to Morningside College, I was an RA in his dorm, and I had even worked with his baseball team as one my work-study jobs.
I don’t regret supporting J.D., but I can tell you it was uncomfortable at times. I worry that Leann Jacobson, John Paschen and/or their supporters believe I was anything but equitable. I was upright, but as I wrote above, perception is everything.
What Can You Do Instead Of Endorsing?
Campaign staffers across the early voting states are joining hands and declaring each other friends. They call it #friendship2020. They are posting photos together using the hashtag to point out they are in this together. Even the candidates are taking photos with one another on the trail; it’s great. These staffers know what is at stake and we, as county chairs, must follow their example and be a part of ending that cycle of divisiveness.
In that spirit, I will be sending out invitations to all our local campaign staffers to join me for a BBQ in the coming weeks. We are going to come together to get to know one another and work to make sure we can avoid any traps that will harm our momentum going forward. I hope to create goodwill and trust while encouraging good-natured competition. We owe that to one another, to the candidates we serve, and to the caucus goers we represent.
Eventually, the campaigns will coalesce around one nominee and we will need that friendship and the faith in our collective leadership to create the greatest grassroots campaign in our history. We, as party chairs, must do everything in our power to prevent bad blood. I will start by not endorsing a candidate for President … and having a BBQ.
by Jeremy Dumkrieger
Woodbury County Democrats chair