Iowa Democrats have a new state party chair: State Rep. Mark Smith of Marshalltown.
The party’s state central committee members gathered today in Des Moines and over the phone to elect Smith as the interim chair following Troy Price’s resignation over the fallout from the reporting breakdowns in the Iowa Caucus. Price announced on Wednesday that he was stepping down as state party chair, effective today once the new chair was determined.
“I know how to work. I know how to recruit. I know how to fundraise. I know how to organize. I know how to win,” Smith said. “The steps are to travel across the state, to listen to everyday Iowans and to excite volunteers.”
Smith served as the minority leader for the House Democrats for five years. During that time, he led the party’s efforts on House races, hiring and managing a full staff, heading up fundraising for the caucus, and planning strategy for swing seats. Under his leadership, Democrats picked up a net gain of five House seats in 2018, though they came short of winning the majority.
“I will lead Democrats to victory,” Smith told the committee.
Smith won handily over Joe Henry, Bob Krause and Gabriel de la Cerda, the three other candidates. All of them got started a day or two later than Smith for the hurry-up election. Henry serves on the national board of LULAC and has headed up many Latino voter registration/engagement efforts in Iowa in recent years.
Krause, a former candidate for Senate in 2016 who served in the Legislature in the 1970s, had unsuccessfully run for the party chair position before. De la Cerda, who has also organized Latino voters, had run before for the 3rd Congressional District.
Smith is the fourth Iowa Democratic Party chair in as many years. Andy McGuire led the party for the 2016 Iowa Caucus; Derek Eadon was elected afterward but resigned for health reasons; Price took over in the summer of 2017.
The election of Smith, of Marshalltown, marks the first time Iowa Democrats have had a chair who lived outside of Polk, Linn or Johnson counties since the early 2000s. Smith had strong backing from the labor community, which won a large number of SCC seats in 2018.
While many of the party activists and SCC members were pleased with the state party up until the reporting mess, Smith now has the challenge of rebuilding trust in the IDP to donors and national Democrats.
They’ll also have to quickly transition past the caucus situation to begin focusing on the U.S. Senate race with Joni Ernst, which will be one of the top Senate races in the country, and the four competitive congressional districts and state legislative races. While the future of the Iowa Caucus and the state’s place in the nominating calendar will eventually get discussed within the DNC, that likely won’t play out fully until after 2020 election.
SCC member Catherine Crist introduced a motion to make today’s election only for an interim chair that would oversee the investigation of caucus night and county conventions, then have a new election before April 4 for a permanent chair. Several members mentioned that there was only a few days notice before this new chair election, and that there could be other candidates for the office who simply didn’t have time to prepare.
Iowa Federation of Labor president Ken Sagar spoke out against it.
“The point is we need stability,” Sagar said. “The point is we need to win elections in 2020.”
The motion failed overwhelmingly.
Most of the SCC members in the room in Des Moines gave Price a standing ovation after he finished up his last speech to the committee.
Smith plans on being a part-time chair during the legislative session, which wraps up in April or May, then a full-time chair following that.
by Pat Rynard