Guest Post: Iowa Dems Should Recommit To Doing The Little Things Right

By Guest Post

December 9, 2022

Guest post from Tyler Redenbaugh.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

– John Wooden

Democrats have been guilty of not doing the little things here in Iowa. From not bringing our values and campaigns to the smallest cities of Iowa to not giving campaign staff the training and accountability needed for success. For years now, we have been neglecting the importance of a campaign’s ground game. We have been unwilling to do the little things necessary to win statewide.

It is time for Iowa Democrats to come together, not to accept these past failures and give up, but to win back areas like Carroll, Ottumwa, and the towns along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. To do this, our party, campaign committees, and campaign staff need to focus on four fundamentals to find success again.

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Showing up: Elections are won in the spring and summer, not in the final weeks of GOTV (get-out-the-vote). We need to build support early by going across the state to listen to people’s concerns and ask them what we can do to earn their support. For decades, the Iowa GOP has operated in many parts of our state without reprisal, defining who we are as Democrats. The only means to stop this is to show up and define ourselves.

Proper training: We need to remember why the “Snowflake” organizing model and its present iterations were first implemented and then replicated ever since. The Snowflake model encourages organizers to distribute their leadership and responsibilities to volunteers. It was first instituted because of a once-in-a-generation candidate, Barack Obama, drew in an overwhelming number of first-time volunteers to the campaign. But notably, it was not deployed by the Obama campaign early in the 2008 presidential primary campaign as the level of volunteer engagement simply was not there at the beginning.

Campaigns must remember that most candidates lack the excitement of a presidential election. Rather than relying upon mere excitement to drive a campaign, we need to give organizers the training and resources to lead the efforts to recruit, train, and engage volunteers. This training will empower our organizers to build a volunteer base, which can then be deployed to win over persuadable voters months before election day.

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Accountability: To see what problems might be coming over the horizon, every campaign, every department, and every staffer needs to embrace accountability and reporting. For far too long in Iowa, we’ve had Democratic campaigns that are too afraid to provide real performance metrics because it will draw attention to problems in the campaign. Being held accountable is not a bad thing.

With the stakes so high on a campaign, staffers need to know what they could be doing better and learn what problems might be forthcoming to correct them. It is the best way to learn from our past mistakes and not repeat them in future elections. Unfortunately, Iowa Democrats have been far too guilty of repeating our mistakes the past few election cycles.

Ground game: Previous to the 2022 cycle, Iowa Democratic candidates started to keep up with–if not surpass–their Republican opponents in terms of fundraising. So why didn’t this translate into more electoral success? The answer is that we have stopped prioritizing direct voter engagement. Every form of paid communication at a campaign’s disposal–TV, mail, digital–has a saturation point. Campaigns and candidates need to learn when to push back against their consultants and instead invest in their ground game to meet voters and persuade them face-to-face. Of course, this isn’t an attractive answer to their consultants because it has the least margin of profit for them.

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While there’s much work ahead of us, the party can turn things around by getting back to the fundamentals and recommitting ourselves to growing the party in all 99 counties. By doing so, voters will hear from us directly as we defend our values, ideas, and successes. This won’t be a quick fix. But by starting the hard work now, the party will make gains year after year and cut down the margins by which Republicans are winning in the exurbs and rural communities, which they have had a lock on for far too long. Our state is not as bright red as it seems. So, to get back to the days of Harkin, Vilsack, and Obama, we need to refocus on the little things to make the big things happen.

Tyler Redenbaugh is an Iowa-based Democratic Strategist and Partner at Pad & Pen Strategies, having over a decade of experience designing and implementing campaign, advocacy, and direct voter engagement plans for races across the country. He can be reached at [email protected].


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