5 Take-Aways From The Wing Ding

Rural Polling Place

Rural Polling Place

Clear Lake, where the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding was held Friday, was an impossible venue for most Iowa working people.

Over 160 miles away in my case, driving there after work was not an option. To make up for the distance, I viewed the Des Moines Register webcast on my desktop. It wasn’t the same as being there, but it felt close in the twitterverse.

A key question for the Feb. 1 caucuses is who will show up, and this year one expects a significant number—not as many as in 2008—will not be activists. The campaigns will be judged by how well they organize and turn out their supporters that night. A failure to bring new people to the caucus process could be fatal for a candidate’s hopes. One of two tickets out of Iowa will go to Hillary Clinton.

Here are five take-aways from the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding.

What not to like about Martin O’Malley? Whether O’Malley can challenge Sanders for the second ticket out of Iowa is uncertain, but he is campaigning in a personal, energetic and personable way. He has had multiple bites at the policy-setting apple, and long time political activists, as well as quadrennial Democrats, can find a lot to like about O’Malley’s ideas and campaign tactics.

The Democratic political establishment is overly reliant on resources the eventual nominee will bring to the table. While Trump and Carson stage circus-like extravaganzas that bring new people into the political process, Democrats place stock in large, formal events like the Wing Ding which target existing political activists. Such events have a role. The better question is what are Democrats doing to bring new people into the process? Prove me wrong, but they aren’t doing much except dusting off the same old sawhorses for the post-caucus campaign. Is anyone else tired of hearing the name Jerry Crawford?

Bernie Sanders’ stump speech is getting old. Progressives are supportive of Sanders’ ideas, but the message is little changed since he appeared in Johnson County to support Bruce Braley before the midterm election. Maybe the idea of political revolution doesn’t need to change. His speech at the Wing Ding wasn’t helped by the fact he was losing his voice. The ideas remained strong, but delivery suffered. The novelty of Sanders is wearing off.

Chafee is actually a Democrat. If there is any question about Chafee’s allegiance to mainstream Democratic ideas, he inoculated the political bloodstream with his better than expected Wing Ding speech.

Hillary Clinton gets a ticket out of Iowa but her challenges lie ahead. In case you missed it, Hillary Clinton is a woman. Set aside all the policy ideas you agree or disagree with—your niggling objections—and it is much less than a sure thing the electorate will support a woman for president in the general election.

We live in a culture where women are considered to be second class citizens and worse. No one knows this better or has done more about it in public life than Hillary Clinton. She has done a lot globally to support women and girls, but the battle is not won. Far from it. Despite her impressive credentials, for reasons that include her gender, Hillary gets short shrift. Like many women, she will have to work smarter and twice as hard as the others to achieve her goals. The glass ceiling isn’t broken yet.

By Labor Day, most Democratic activists—people who invest time and resources into political campaigns—will have decided for whom they will caucus. Many already know or have signed up for a campaign. Some wear their preference on a T-shirt or car bumper. Others keep close counsel. The veil—already wearing thin—will be shed in a few weeks.

There is a desultory feel to this year’s caucus season, which began April 10 in Des Moines with speeches by Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley. Some show enthusiasm for their chosen candidate, yet most people I encounter are tuned out of politics. With each election the life cycle of interest in voting seems shorter.

As Iowans seek relief from summer’s heat and humidity we have had a chance to get to know the five Democratic contenders. Deciding which one to support will be easier because of Iowa’s first in the nation status. What everyday Iowans do about it is an open question.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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