The trouble for Iowa Democrats is a too long primary season fraught with internal competition. “Competition” is saying it politely.
On Dec. 2, U.S. Representative John Delaney (D-Maryland) began his fifth trip to the Hawkeye state as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. Delaney may be unrealistically early, but the presidential candidates are expected to help during the midterm elections next year, more than a year before the Iowa caucuses and two years before the general election.
There is an open race for governor after Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to China. Republicans have two major candidates, and Democrats have seven. The primary election is June 5, 2018 and already Democrats are running television ads, sending mass mailings, and campaigning all around the state. Part of what’s good about early activity is it can activate people to pay attention to politics.
Whether early activity actually does activate people is an open question. The calls to knock doors and make phone calls for primary candidates in a supposed “ground game” six months out ring hollow in December. Democratic activists will use all the time given to pick and choose among people who are running and vote in the primary or caucus for their favorite presidential candidate. If, as in previous election cycles, the rest of the electorate lets political parties nominate candidates then choose among them a week or two before the election, the activation aspect of a long primary is rendered null. There is little to indicate 2018 or 2020 will be any different from the past.
What is my beef with current Democratic politics? Everything takes too freaking long.
In 2015 I had an email exchange with political operative and race horse owner Jerry Crawford. My issue was
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?
Crawford unexpectedly responded, defending himself, “I got involved in politics as a teenager and one of the problems in Iowa is that at age 65 I am still younger than many activists.”
After a back and forth in which Crawford enumerated the ways he sought to bring new people into the Democratic Party, I wrote,
Democrats could use a better organizational strategy. The current one, which came into use beginning in 2004, alienates grassroots activists by being top-down, and not listening to what people in the community are saying. There is no evidence that changed with Hillary 2016. Democrats in a precinct, who seek to get active in politics, should be given more power to contact every voter living there, and not just ID people supporting our candidate, but invite them to join us in the struggle for social and political justice, which is bigger than any single candidate. We all have our dreams and that’s mine.
I don’t bear any political ill will toward Crawford. With Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price’s recent comments, I feel somewhat vindicated:
“In Iowa,” Sioux City Journal reporter Brent Hayworth wrote, “Price said a lesson from the 2016 election was the so-called coordinated campaign, where candidates tap the state party for help, ‘has not been working, it has been too top down.’”
I wish the party under Andy McGuire had realized this before the 2016 election. If wishes were horses, Jerry Crawford’s jockeys would ride in a society where our current government favors capital over labor.
What is next?
I have grown to dislike the Iowa caucuses. The 2015-2016 fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went on far too long. There was never any serious doubt Clinton would be the Democratic nominee whether or not she won Iowa and Sanders supporters focused their energy on taking Clinton down rather than on winning the general election. This created a electorate where former Obama voters flipped to Donald Trump, not only in my Johnson County precinct, but in Democratic strongholds across the state. The long caucus battle, with a close result, and continuing acrimony contributed to the Republican victory in the general election. I understand giving up the early precinct caucus presidential preference activity would change Iowa politics. Borrowing a phrase from gubernatorial candidate Ross Wilburn, who didn’t mean it this way, “Let’s be Iowa” without the caucuses.
Thus far the seven Democratic gubernatorial candidate have played things mostly Iowa nice. While I’m not as active politically as I was in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 campaigns it seems clear the winner of the June primary for governor will be one of three candidates: Nate Boulton, Fred Hubbell or John Norris. Cathy Glasson and Andy McGuire are doing the work of a state-wide campaign but seem unlikely to prevail in the primary because of ties to old ways of campaigning: Glasson to the John Edwards caucus campaign in 2007, and McGuire to campaigns run during her tenure as Iowa Democratic Party chair. At this point, I don’t feel a pressing need to pick a gubernatorial candidate for the June primary but intend to see how things play out among them. That I feel a luxury of time is part of the problem with Iowa Democratic politics in 2017.
We don’t have time because what matters more in 2018 will be community organizing. That’s a much different approach to politics and Democrats abandoned it in favor of data analytics and targeted canvasses to win elections. What community organizing means is being active in our communities and getting things done with other people who live there.
What kinds of things? Water issues, sewer issues, economic development, budgeting, road use, public safety, planning and zoning, emergency services, school boards, cemetery maintenance, public health and other ultra local issues. The reason there is no time is the Iowa Democratic Party may develop policies to support values that impact these areas, however, local problems must be solved by local people who are willing to get involved beyond voicing an opinion. That means everyone regardless of voter registration. Once we work within our communities, we open a door of influence. While it may seem self-serving, it means influencing people to vote for our candidates. This is precisely what Republicans have been doing and it’s time Democrats got on the playing field.
My advice? Forget about the run up to the primary and work in your community to effect change with which people can agree. That may mean giving up the long road trips to attend political events and using the time to get to know our neighbors — all of them. It’ll take some wrangling to get this done, but I’m confident we can move onward in pursuit of a better politics and a better government. We have to.