Ras Smith on his Campaign Exit and the Future of Iowa Democrats

Ras Smith on his Campaign Exit and the Future of Iowa Democrats

By Nikoel Hytrek

January 5, 2022

Though he ended his campaign for governor Wednesday morning, Rep. Ras Smith, is ready to jump feet-first into the start of the legislative session next week.

“For me this experience has been one that’s been eye-opening but it’s not discouraging. Disappointing but not discouraging,” Smith said in an interview with Starting Line. “I’m going into the session with the renewed sense of what our duty is.”

The primary reason for ending his campaign, he said, is because of fundraising barriers.

“The reason that we launched our campaign was because of this moment and the energy that exists amongst folks,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think there’s a disconnect between what the people are showing on the ground and where our donor class exists.”

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Their seven-month campaign turned out people across the political spectrum and drew in people who are normally out of the loop when it comes to politics, he said.

“Our messaging was working well with folks, it was resounding with folks, we were building name recognition and doing the work of traveling across the state,” he said. “All the things that helped to get us in a position to even be able to launch our campaign in the first place. And those things didn’t really change.”

Smith added that he felt like he didn’t even get the chance to make his case to the individuals who often make large contributions and who can connect candidates with other funders.

“I would have loved to get some stated pushback,” he said. “I would have loved to get some reasons maybe why not. I would have loved to have the conversations, the opportunity to have the conversations. I wish I would have gotten the friendly meetings.”

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Their campaign learned Iowans generally want candidates who reflect their experiences and struggles, and who have lived lives similar to theirs. However, Smith said, those same candidates can’t make inroads because of barriers at upper levels.

That’s one reason why, he theorized, that Democrats don’t do better in Iowa. Too many people decide not to invest in a campaign before candidates have a chance to prove their ability to succeed, because donors don’t think those campaigns can.

“To not really be able to gain the audience of the traditional donor class in our party is a signal for what the future looks like,” he said.

Going forward, Smith said the broader party supporters need to reflect on what it wants Democrats to represent, and put their money where their mouth is.

“Are we going to continue to light our money on fire by hiring fancy consultants to tell us the stuff that we already know to be true?” he asked. “Or are we going to actually engage with people who have been on the ground doing the work? Are we going to invite, not just organizations that we’re comfortable with, but are we inviting the Great Plains Society and Black Lives Matter to be part of our conversations about the future of our party? Or are we going to stick exclusively to those folks who’ve been writing the big checks?”

His advice to candidates? Be willing to put in the work and don’t be overly discouraged when other candidates come up short.

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Without serious reflection and faith in the candidates, Smith said, the Democratic Party won’t make inroads and it won’t defeat Gov. Reynolds.

“No candidate for governor has been empowered to build the infrastructure necessary to beat Kim Reynolds, and a lot of that is due to our own folks not investing,” he said. “And so until that happens, we got our work ahead of us.”

Still, Smith said he’s hopeful for the future, and he’s ready for upcoming fights over education funding, LGBTQ rights, workforce development and further tax cuts.

“It’s disappointing that the banner that’s flying across the state of Iowa is one that we’re not a welcoming state,” he said. “Making Iowa a welcoming place where my family story can be retold, where our heritage can be one that we’re proud of and maintain, that’s the focus.”


by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 1/5/22

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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