Living in Society

Iowa Caucus Contagion


In 2000, the year the U.S. Supreme Court stopped vote counting in Florida and made George W. Bush our 43rd president, measles was declared eliminated.

Not so fast.

“From January 1 to April 26, 2019, 704 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 22 states,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week. “This is an increase of 78 cases from the previous week. This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994.”

Our political leaders are not solely responsible for a preventable disease outbreak that mostly affects children younger than 18. Concurrently, measles outbreaks are a sign of our political times. Vaccine-preventable diseases belong in history books not in 22 U.S. states.

My interest in the measles outbreak is driven by two terms I served on the county board of health. CDC was politicized under president Bush, whose administration censored its director, Dr. Julie Gerberding. However, if CDC’s army of health professionals reports an outbreak, we should take it seriously. As an Iowa Democrat that means picking smart leadership in the 2020 general election from township trustee to the White House. We have to change a political climate which produces social phenomena like communicable disease outbreaks.

20 Democratic candidates are running for president, with the incumbent the presumed Republican nominee. It’s hard to say who will emerge from the July 2020 Democratic National Convention as the nominee, but know this: there aren’t as many choices as one would think.

Joe Biden is making his third attempt for the nomination, Bernie Sanders his second. A squad of U.S. Senators has announced, as well as current and former mayors and U.S. representatives. There are even outliers like best-selling author Marianne Williamson, businessman Andrew Yang who supports a universal income, and second time aspirant Mike Gravel. With nine months to go until the Iowa Caucuses, most people I know planning to attend have it narrowed down to a few options.

This summer’s Democratic debates should clear some non-viable candidates from the field. The Democratic National Committee set criteria for participation on June 26-27 in Miami and July 30-31 in Detroit as follows:

  • Receiving at least 1 percent support in three DNC-approved polls. Those could be in early state polls — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Nevada — or in national polls between the beginning of January 2019 and the two-week mark before the first debate (a candidate could fall short but then qualify for the second debate if they meet the polling threshold two weeks before the July debate).
  • Receiving donations from at least 65,000 unique donors with a minimum of 200 donors in at least 20 different states.

Say what you will about the criteria, they are straight-forward and concise. If a presidential candidate can’t get one percent in the polls or raise money, why would they receive further consideration? That makes July 31 the drop dead date for Democratic presidential candidates.

The challenge in our district is bandwidth. In addition to selecting delegates to the county, district and state conventions by presidential preference groups Feb. 2, 2020, Democrats do not have a stand-out candidate to run against Senator Joni Ernst in her first re-election. We need to find one because without a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, any Democratic president’s agenda would be hamstrung out the gate on inauguration day. In addition, Congressman Dave Loebsack announced his retirement at the end of his term. Multiple candidates are expected to announce for congress this spring and summer. Between announcement and the June 2, 2020 primary, name recognition and winning over primary voters will be essential for viable candidates. Even former State Senator Rita Hart, who ran as our 2018 lieutenant governor nominee in the state-wide race is hardly a household name. There is a lot to do to keep this seat in congress Democratic. How does one work on all of that at the same time?

Managing bandwidth is about staying focused on voters in my precinct. I seek to contribute to a welcoming environment at the caucus where I seem likely to be selected as acting chair. If that’s the case, I may not make a pick for president before the caucus. I can even see me throwing my support to a preference group that needs one more member to become viable. As long as the candidate has a “D” after their name, and is selected by the party, I don’t see the relevance of my personal preference. Digging into a shallow pool of colloquialisms, “we have bigger fish to fry.” There are also other, more populous, and impactful states to vote or caucus by Super Tuesday on March 3, 2020.

The number of views on this blog surged when I announced my pick of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Iowa caucuses. While I’m tempted to try to make a splash again this year, Democrats seem resolute about replacing the incumbent president. It would be foolish to let personality, individualism, or my interest in clicks get in the way of that momentum. If I’m lucky, the party will find someone else to run the caucus and I can work for a presidential campaign during the run up. I’m not holding my breath.

The measles outbreak is unfortunate and we can’t deny the science of communicable disease unless we want to put everything we hold dear at risk. So it is with our politics. The country appears to be under a spell, and the most obvious person is not the witch. It’s time to do what we know is right to recruit and vote for viable candidates to take on the Republicans. We may lose but won’t get anywhere toward a more just society unless we engage and put our best energy to work.

As Hillary Clinton said, “We are stronger together.”