After the Midterms
BIG GROVE TOWNSHIP— Completing this year’s election ballot took more time than usual, partly because I was torn in a couple of the races when I arrived at the auditor’s office to cast my vote.
I began by flipping it over to write in DeWayne Klouda as township trustee.
Klouda had been discussing his re-election for a couple of board meetings, so I called him after the sample ballot was released without his name. His paperwork had not arrived in the auditor’s office by the filing deadline.
Running a write-in campaign where there is no candidate is straightforward. I wrote and issued a press release saying he was running, and once that was in the paper, and through word of mouth, we got enough people to write him in to be elected. Sigh of relief, because he possesses the institutional knowledge of our board. Our clerk was on the ballot uncontested, so he won re-election as well.
The last item I voted was the state house race between incumbent Republican Bobby Kaufmann and Democrat David Johnson.
Early this cycle, the Cedar County Democrats chair called and asked me to stay out of the race. He wanted the effort to be directed from Cedar County. Since our effort failed in 2012, I had had my chance, and felt obligated to step aside, and did. When there was a competitive Democratic primary, I answered questions for both candidates, and interviewed them for the Solon Economist, but campaigned for neither one over the other. Our 2012 campaign had defeated Johnson in the primary, and if he wanted to run again, I wasn’t going to stand in the way this time.
After the election, Iowa City blogger John Deeth commented about the race on his Facebook page, and I responded:
The most positive aspect of this state-house election was that it defined the Democratic base as 32 percent (for the entire district), which, not surprisingly, equals the active Democratic registrations at 31.9 percent. I know there were defections back and forth among party-registered voters, but the base turnout number will help future candidates know that their campaign should focus almost exclusively on building a coalition to get to 50 percent plus one using no preference voters, new voters and Republicans. IMHO, this is the new normal.
What I’m saying is that every candidate has a plan to win, and in that plan, the Democratic base is a solid number. We now know what that is in HD73. Winning elections is about bringing voters into a coalition, and the Democratic base is not enough to win. In my precinct, there were 136 straight ticket D voters among 957 votes cast. Take them and the 174 straight ticket Rs out and you have 647 or 68 percent of the electorate to work with.
Kaufmann won our precinct 611-323 (65.4%-34.6%). For perspective, in 2012, a presidential election year and the first election for the newly minted House District 73, Democrat Dick Schwab won the precinct 559-525 (51.6%-48.4%). What happened? It’s not about party registrations.
After winning in 2012, Kaufmann built a reputation as an energetic and responsive state representative who worked with constituents regardless of party. During the campaign, he door knocked our house at least three times and was constantly in the local newspaper doing something to serve constituent interests. Some argue that yard signs don’t win elections, but the fact that Kaufmann’s name was plastered everywhere built name recognition, and like any advertising, it takes a number of impressions to make a sale. He had that.
It turned out that Kaufmann’s more controversial votes in the legislature did not matter as much to most constituents, as his high level of energy and willingness to talk about any issue and produce results.
For Johnson’s part, I wasn’t privy to what his campaign was doing, but I received a couple of mailers asking for donations, along with one from an outside group criticizing Kaufmann. My only human contact with Johnson, after I wrote the articles for the primary, was at public events, mostly outside the district. He wasn’t an active presence in the precinct. I did not see him one time in our precinct, although to be fair the precinct is geographically large, and I might have missed him.
In October I receive a call from the Cedar County Democrats chair who asked about Johnson’s prospects. I responded he would carry the base, which is what he did. The trouble was he didn’t build on the base.
By winning back-to-back elections, Kaufmann made it more difficult for Democrats to beat him during the three elections remaining before the 2020 U.S. Census and re-districting.