We’ve Got to Do Something

U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Over the weekend Erin Murphy, a Lee Enterprises Des Moines based reporter, said it was quiet in Iowa’s congressional primary races.

“Perhaps in the coming weeks and months, some of these quieter primary races will become more crowded,” Murphy wrote in the Quad City Times. “For now, though, the fairly low level of interest from candidates has been surprising.”

Murphy recounted the five 2020 congressional delegation races, noted who was in each race, and which were conspicuous by the absence of a declared candidate from one party or the other (a Democrat in Iowa 4 and a Republican in Iowa 2*). It is a long time until the June 2020 primary election, so Murphy’s surprise seems premature, even if he acknowledged the 11 months in the article.

My sense, from talking to Democratic voters, is there is near universal belief “we have to do something.” By that, they mean overturn Republican control of the presidency, keep the U.S. House and retake the U.S. Senate, and win one or both chambers of the state legislature. People are dead serious about it and seem willing to devote resources to making it happen. They will be sure to show up to vote in the general election.

The disconnect, and maybe the premise for Murphy’s article, is between the “we have to do something” feeling and nominees produced by the party. Voters I talk to don’t care that much about who is nominated for Congress and U.S. Senate unless they are an incumbent. They just know what we have now isn’t working.

I know what that’s like. We had to do something toward the end of George W. Bush’s first term. My response was to pick a race, focus, donate money, and volunteer every chance I got. I felt long-time Congressman Jim Leach had to go. While the Democratic challenger Dave Franker wasn’t the best candidate, everyone who volunteered on his campaign worked hard toward his election. “It didn’t work out well,” I mentioned to Dave Loebsack via email when he established an exploratory committee for the Second District Congressional seat in March 2005.

I put 2004 behind me and re-started my effort to ouster the incumbent. Voters I spoke with on the telephone and in person had turned against the once popular Leach. It almost didn’t matter our candidate was Dave Loebsack, because the expressed need for change was so prevalent. We went into election night not knowing if we’d win but hopeful based on the large number of voters who’d had it with the incumbent. As we now know, Loebsack was successful in defeating him.

I haven’t started door knocking or calling voters in 2019. As I mentioned, “we have to do something,” and that’s similar to 2006 which was the beginning of a Democratic wave that culminated in a national trifecta in 2008.

Why is it so quiet in the congressional races in July? I’m not sure that’s an accurate statement. Maybe there are less candidates running, however, the noise, if there is any, is more among rank and file Democrats, particularly those who are normally less active, taking it all in and discussing politics with friends and family. They need space to consider candidates in lives that don’t normally revolve around partisan politics. Outside the presidential preference at the February caucus, most don’t really care who nominees are as long as there is a D behind their name and candidates act like it. People are making room for politics in busy lives, but it hasn’t the high priority that will drive a more exciting race of the kind Murphy was expecting.

Resolved not to let Trump and the Republican policies stand, people seem hunkered down trying to make a go of it in an economy that favors the wealthy and where corporations strive to squeeze regular people out of every last dime. Maintaining the type of resolve needed to change our government takes energy, just a different kind than what’s represented in an active, multi-candidate primary.

People say an open primary and debate between multiple candidates is good for the party. I don’t know about that. Rank and file view it differently and people seem to take stock before declaring candidacy, realizing the financial investment in one of these five races will be significant. Maybe what you see is what you get and others don’t want to run of office.

July 2019 may be the quiet before a political storm that’s brewing next year.

* On July 8, Erin Murphy reported that Bobby Schilling filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission to run for Congress in Iowa’s second district as a Republican.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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