Many, if not all, of the Democrats campaigning for president have done some down-ballot party building over the course of their careers.
Several of them, including Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris, told stories on the trail about being in Iowa to knock doors for Barack Obama during his first White House run.
We also see this down-ballot party building play out through endorsements in midterm elections. Sen. Cory Booker endorsed Democratic candidates in 2018 and helped them raise funds and support while running in close contests.
J.D. Scholten, the Democratic candidate taking on Rep. Steve King in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, has been party building up-ballot, lending his knowledge, experience and status here to help Democratic presidential candidates connect with rural voters.
“It’s been fascinating since the last election to be able to work on, and talk about, these issues. Because of the Iowa caucuses, and because of who I’m running against, I have a louder voice than most people who are running for Congress,” said Scholten, in an interview with Booker and Starting Line. “That’s why on our ‘Don’t Forget About Us’ tour — going into towns of under 1,000 people — we talk about the RFS, we talk about grocery stores, where we don’t hear these national headlines. People are trying to survive here.”
Rural and agricultural issues have been pushed to the forefront in Iowa this year as tariffs, trade talks and disputes over the Renewable Fuel Standard roil the economy. Every Democratic candidate has rolled out a robust rural plan, learned about the EPA’s oil refinery waivers and knows how to talk about the implications to Iowans.
Scholten has made that process much easier.
“When we have other areas that are just struggling to keep the local grocery store intact, and we have Dollar General coming in, you can’t get fresh produce in your local town,” Scholten said. “So, if farmers aren’t making a dime, if we’re not feeding ourselves, and the grocery stores are struggling – what are we doing then?”
Booker said he enjoys events with Scholten and recognizes his ability to connect with people from all walks of life. The two held an event in Harlan, Iowa (population: 5,100), in Western Iowa late last week.
“To have J.D. at the center of this, not just geographically, but in the national conversation, is so critical,” Booker said. “And to see him leveraging this race, because life is about purpose not position, and see him be consistent in this purpose and doing everything he can to help people in his community, regardless of party, is exciting to me.”
This is precisely the roll Scholten wants to fill. Specifically, he sees a lack in the current leadership, and it is rural Midwest leaders in D.C. that are missing.
“You look at our party as a whole, and you look at the 4th District. It’s not the district you generally go to if you’re a Democrat running for president. The biggest thing that we saw last time, people weren’t ashamed to be Democrats, but they were quiet about it. Now, people are proud to be Democrats,” Scholten said. “As I see the party now, you look at the Midwest and you see the leaders that aren’t there anymore; from [Tom] Harkin to Berkley Bedell, Tom Daschle and Russell Feingold, we’re missing those voice to protect farmers in D.C.”
Not only is that an opportunity for the party as a whole, it’s also a chance for Scholten to capitalize on the attention of the caucuses as he gets ready for another run at Iowa’s 4th District House seat.
“During my first run, I feel like I gained the respect of a lot of the ag community, but I didn’t quite get all of their votes — I think I can do that this time,” he said. “By being around with all of the presidential candidates, they see me advocating for them.”
A big part of Scholten’s rural and agricultural focus is antitrust laws, cutting down on corporate consolidation, and returning power to farmers. Booker has worked on this, too, and said he saw the results of Scholten’s work when he talked to rural folks.
“This is why J.D. will win,” Booker said. “These are people, they are not parties, and folks understand common sense. When I’ve sat down in other states with Republican farmers, and we start talking about real issues affecting their lives; the fact that their grandparents and parents got so much more of the share of the consumer dollar, and it’s not cascaded down to about 50% for many commodities. Where now, it’s being eaten up by this massive corporate consolidation that’s driving them out of business.
“[J.D.] and I are going to be at this for years to come, and we’re going to win this battle because it’s not a partisan fight.”
Scholten said he was happy to see presidential candidates here, but that having them listen to people in farm country was most important.
“I’m just appreciative. It shows the movement we’ve created out here in Western Iowa. It’s nice to see national Democrats look at our race, see there was success, see that our message resonated, and being willing to listen,” he said. “I’m tired of trickle-down politics; this is what national Democratic candidates should be doing, listening to people. Now they are doing that, and I think it’s really cool to see.”
By Josh Cook