JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa — Democratic delegates met in all 99 Iowa counties on Saturday, March 12. The day was overcast, but hopeful.
A bellwether was the fact I didn’t recognize many of the hundreds of people at the Tiffin High School auditorium where our county convention was held. Old timers are giving way to a new generation of Democrats brought in this election cycle by the contested presidential primary and Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses.
The results of the presidential horse race were similar to caucus night — Hillary Clinton had four more state delegates after the conventions than Bernie Sanders, ratifying her historic Iowa win 704-700.
The convention was about more than the presidential nomination.
With delegates intoxicated by the allure of the presidential race, Congressman Dave Loebsack and State Senator Bob Dvorsky attempted to sober them up with focus on the importance of the 2016 Iowa legislative races. For six years, Democrats have held the Senate Chamber by the slimmest of margins 26-24, Dvorsky said. If Democrats lose the Senate, Iowa could go the way Wisconsin and Kansas have.
“There are 12 Democratic Senate races this year, and we have to run the table,” Dvorsky said.
First term State Senator Chris Brase has a competitive race in nearby Senate District 46 which includes Muscatine County and parts of Scott. Since none of the Johnson County Senate delegation will be on the ballot in 2016, Dvorsky encouraged delegates and alternates to help with Brase’s campaign.
“Embrace Brase,” he said.
Loebsack was in sync with Dvorsky, affirming his support for Hillary Clinton, saying he would support Sanders if he were the nominee. He then explained that the presidential race, even his race and the challenge to six-term U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, were less important to Iowa than the state house races.
During the caucus of Clinton delegates and alternates to elect district/state delegates, former Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky affirmed the strategy of the presidential campaign returning to Iowa after the Democratic National Convention. The presidential campaign will bring much needed financial and organizational resources to prop up the Iowa Democratic Party.
There was other news at the convention.
Abbie Weipert of Tiffin announced she will join North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen in the June 7 Democratic primary to nominate a candidate in House District 77. Nielsen was first to enter the race after two-term Representative Sally Stutsman announced her retirement last month. I met Weipert during the 2012 campaign when her now husband Travis was elected Johnson County Auditor.
There was no announcement of a challenger to two-term Republican Bobby Kaufmann who represents House District 73 with six precincts in Johnson County along its border with Cedar County. During a previous discussion with Cedar County Democrats chair Laura Twing, no challenger is forthcoming. At this writing, Democrats appear ready to cede this seat.
Jason T. Lewis announced a bid for county supervisor in the June 7 Democratic primary. Lewis joins four other candidates, including incumbents Rod Sullivan and Lisa Green-Douglass, and newcomers Kurt Michael Friese and Patricia Heiden. Heiden, until recently a registered Republican, was the only one of the five who didn’t address the convention Saturday morning. Three seats are up this cycle.
Sullivan and Green-Douglass have the upper hand going into the primary. Sullivan is arguably the most liberal of the current supervisors and has strong rural connections that are important in a county dominated by the City of Iowa City and the University of Iowa.
Green-Douglass was elected in a special election Jan. 19, however, her strong showing during the 2014 primary contest gives her better name recognition than Friese, Heiden or Lewis. Mike Carberry beat Green-Douglass 3,459 to 3,333 on June 3, 2014, which was a respectable showing for both candidates.
What likely tipped the win to Carberry was better county-wide name recognition combined with support of the Newport Road gang. Before the January election, I heard a gang member refer to Green-Douglass as “no good,” so their support may be an issue for her again this cycle. During his speech at the convention, Friese, a friend of Carberry, aligned himself with interests of the Newport Road gang with his campaign tagline, “Stop pouring concrete on good farm land!” He also parroted the Newport Road position of developing the county by filling in existing lots rather than through additional rezoning. It will take more than alignment with any one group to win the Democratic primary. According to the cowboy card Friese distributed at the convention he has a broader palette from which to paint his campaign.
Johnson County’s leaders asserted a focus more on down-ticket races than the presidential or U.S. Senate ones. It’s hard to argue with that.
Best political speech of the day, maybe of all time? Two letters, “Hi,” from County Attorney Janet Lyness who had laryngitis.