J.D. Scholten: What’s On My Mind Heading Into The Iowa Caucuses

Photo by Julie Fleming

By Guest Post

February 3, 2020

All eyes are on Iowa. For many, this night has taken months and months (if not years) of planning and preparation, fueling debates about electability, cross-over appeal, experience, fresh faces, and historic candidacies. And in the build up to Monday night’s caucuses, the questions that keep popping up from my family, Iowans, and the media are 1) Who are you going to endorse? 2) Which candidate would be the best at the top of the ticket to help in your congressional race?

In the last year, through my work with an antipoverty non-profit, Working Hero Iowa, or in my campaign to serve Iowa’s 4th congressional district, I’ve proudly stood alongside any presidential hopeful that has asked me to do so. Some campaigns were more eager than others in sharing their plans for rural America, asking questions about rural organizing and outreach, and doing events together. We didn’t play favorites; in fact, I was more than happy to work with any campaign to ensure that my district and rural Americans won’t be left behind in the Democratic party once the Iowa Caucuses are over. I pushed them — and will keep pushing them — on the importance of revitalizing rural America.

This is the reality of my district: Iowa’s 4th congressional district is the 2nd most agriculture producing district in America; we’re very rural and proud of it. There are areas that are doing ok, but for the most part, it’s getting harder and harder to live in rural Iowa. Farmers are working harder than ever before, but making less than 15 cents of the consumer dollar — a record low. Farm bankruptcies, loan delinquency rates, and suicides are all going up while the CEOs of agribusinesses are making record profits.

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In other parts of the economy, closures and consolidation are the norm. Everything from grocery stores and hospitals to OB/GYN units, farms, banks, and schools are closing, consolidating, or offering fewer services so folks have to drive further for food, health care, education, financial services, and more. Yes, I believe the government can help provide solutions to these systemic issues. That’s why I’m a Democrat, but one who lives in a district that Trump won by 27% and understands that it’s up to us to show up, prove that we’re trustworthy, and prove that we’re going to fight for our constituents.

I hear and see a lot of people having a hard time deciding on who they want to get behind on caucus night, so if my thoughts on the candidates campaigning here in Iowa will help, here they are (in alphabetical order by last name):

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Joe Biden – I am grateful to his campaign for bringing John Kerry and Bob Kerrey as surrogates to Iowa. I haven’t heard the Vice President speak about his rural policy plan or help create it, but I was impressed with what I read, especially the part about antitrust. Our schedules haven’t been compatible, so I haven’t seen his campaign as up close as others.

Pete Buttigieg – In the last week, his campaign has pulled 300 people in Carroll and over 200 people in New Hampton. I know what it is like to hold town halls there and I’d give anything for half those numbers. Also, it was impressive to get at least one person from all 99 counties to the Liberty and Justice Dinner last fall. I wouldn’t be shocked if they have a bigger night than predicted.

Amy Klobuchar – The biggest revolt against Trump from Trump voters here was after August 9th when his Administration approved 31 small refinery waivers, putting big oil over Midwest farmers and immediately resulting in a drop of corn prices by 10% — the largest drop ever recorded in August. No one in the field gets this issue like she does and I see Republicans in the agriculture industry crossing over to support her. Also, I respect the hustle of going to all 99 counties — that’s not easy. As we like to say, “You can’t fake showing up.”

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Bernie Sanders – Senator Sanders came to campaign for me in Sioux City, Fort Dodge, and Ames in 2018 when no one else would. I will always be grateful for that. His campaign pulls  new faces into the party and gives the working class a megaphone. If he’s the nominee, I am here for Bernie-palooza with all of the amazing bands he’s brought to Iowa in the last few weeks. Their campaign continues to poll well and bring out large crowds. The big question everyone wants to know is how much of that energy translates into delegates on caucus night.

Tom Steyer – I respect his work to address climate change. A huge part of our success in 2018 was getting Iowa State students to vote. His organization, NextGen, did a phenomenal job registering college students to vote.

Elizabeth Warren – You’ve probably heard me talk about one of my political heroes, Berkley Bedell. The last time I saw him in person was when I introduced him on stage, right before he introduced and endorsed Senator Warren. She was also the first campaign to have a rural outreach program. Outside of Berk’s endorsement, my favorite endorsements have been the list of Republicans that have crossed over to support her. She has a plan for everything! I am very grateful for all of her help in 2018. With 50% of caucus goers still undecided, a lot of it will come down to well-trained precinct captains and I see that as a big advantage for her campaign.

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Andrew Yang – It doesn’t matter what happens on Monday night, Andrew Yang is already a winner. No campaign has grown as much from when they started. Putting the Freedom Dividend aside, Andrew has been a much-needed voice in the Democratic Party by addressing the reality of the 4th Industrial Revolution. I remember stopping at a run-down gas station off of I-80 and seeing a “Yang Gang” sticker…respect.

During every phone call or meeting with these presidential candidates, I have pushed them all on one thing: ENFORCING OUR ANTITRUST LAWS IN AGRICULTURE.

This is the first step to rural revitalization, allowing farmers to stay on their land and make a dime, and combating climate change. This will give our rural communities a seat at the table. Currently, multinational corporations dictate the policies, the inputs, the markets, and how we farm. We need to level the playing field and give our rural communities a chance.

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When it comes to an endorsement, a lot of people on social media hit us up to endorse their candidate. Sorry to disappoint, but the reality is that only two candidates have personally asked me to endorse them.

I am not endorsing one specific candidate just one specific policy: enforcing our antitrust laws. This is something very few people were talking about before this cycle even though it’s at the heart of the rural economy.

Which candidate would be the best top of the ticket for us in Iowa’s 4th? It doesn’t matter. They are ALL electable. They may have different paths, but I believe each of them can beat Trump if the Democratic Party rallies behind him or her — and if we continue to work hard to attract new coalitions (like rural America!!)

Don’t let the pundits fool you that only one certain type of Democrat is the answer. In Iowa, we pride ourselves on being independent thinkers and I urge you all to caucus for who inspires you the most.


by J.D. Scholten
Posted 2/3/20



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