Breaking Down The Red Derecho
If you want to look for it, there's discourse aplenty online either mourning Iowa's election results or trying to figure out where it all went quite so wrong. I have no knowledge of the inner workings of the State Democratic Party. They could be doing quite a few of these things already-- and if they are, great. But while I'm technically registered as a Democrat, I am not. I hate the two party system and while we still don't have final results on who's controlling what quite yet, I am more convinced than ever than political parties are stupid.
Iowa's results are entirely the fault of the State Democratic Party. Trendlines have been creeping against them for a few cycles now. The Caucus Clusterfuck didn't help matters. You get the sense that candidate recruitment has been lackluster and the State Party just isn't willing to spend the resources where it should be to claw anything back. They don't have solid social media messaging either.
Nationally, the Democrats bucked historical trends in a huge way. And yet, they didn't in Iowa.
Michael Fitzgerald has been State Treasurer since I've been alive. Lost his job.
Tom Miller has been Attorney General since I was but a wee lad. Lost his job.
Cindy Axne, who has been in a tough district since she's been in Congress lost by the skin of her teeth.
There are no excuses for any of these losses. I don't care that guns were on the ballot. I don't care that everyone thought it was going to be a typical Midterm year and Red Wave this and Red Wave that.
No excuses. None.
(Tangent Time: before I get into a breakdown of what I think the State Dems should do next- it's worth noting that the National Party isn't entirely off the hook here either. They've been horrible at targeting races these past few cycles-- while Jamie Harrison in South Carolina, Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Val Demings in Florida all look like great candidates on paper, millions were spent and in the end they would have been better off lighting all that money on fire for all the good it did them.
The right amount of support at the right time could have tipped the 3rd District Axne's way. It also probably cost the Democrats a Senate pick-up in Wisconsin which would have been way bigger news and way more important than tilting at windmills trying to take down Rubio.)
Where does Iowa go from here? (In no particular order)
1. Dump the Caucuses. It's going to happen anyway, so you might as well not waste any more time on it. Adopt a ranked choice primary and move along.
2. Effective counter messaging against the GOP: some State Senator posted an infographic on his Twitter account (and I wish I could find that damn Tweet, so I could give credit where credit is due.) pointing out that only 23 counties in Iowa have a private high school. That shit should have been everywhere this cycle, but especially in rural Iowa. Who exactly do school vouchers benefit? Doesn't appear to be that many people.
Reynolds wants to try the Great Kansas Tax Experiment. What does that mean for Iowa voters? What services did Kansas lose? What should we expect? If she says it's going to be different this time- how? Why? Prove it. Make them make the case.
Eminent domain. The carbon pipeline was HUGE issue that State Democrats didn't appear to do a damn thing about. Rural voters hate it. Did you even take a position on it?
Brain drain: how are we going to grow our economy when every other state around us can steal our talent and pay our people more money than we can? The economics of Brain Drain are hard to ignore and impossible to counter. The GOP will try and make it about values and shit like that. Don't let them. (This also,. should be a major talking point for State Dems. "IF YOU PAY THEM, THEY WILL COME" is a bumper sticker waiting to happen.)
Water quality: take a goddamn stand. Show voters the water. Show 'em how you want to fix it. (Oh also, talk to some farmers about soil quality while you're at it.)
Marijuana: is real simple. "Weed is a billion dollar industry, Mr. Farmer- why don't Iowa Republicans want you to make money?" And you say that over and over and over again.
Childcare: another juicy issue that State Dems didn't do anything with. Reynolds turned down Federal money for childcare assistance. Her plan on childcare is... what?
3. Candidate recruitment. I saw a Tweet go by from Cedar County- in districts with 25% Hispanic population, GOP candidates ran unopposed. Personally, I think the goal should be to find a candidate for every race- but this was an unforced error. You can't do this. You have to fix this. Candidate recruitment is probably much harder than me railing about it on the internet- but come on! That was so frustrating to see. A decent Democratic candidate could have had a shot there. You can't win if you don't bother to play.
4. I really do think that COVID changed the electorate in a very fundamental way. It exposed voters to the fact that the government can deliver materially for people if it wants too-- and that is going to be interesting to watch going forward. I'm going to assume that voters will reward the parties that deliver the goods in a way that might break down the Culture War nonsense in ways that conventional wisdom doesn't account for yet. (This is my working hypothesis going forward-- I could be wrong here.)
But: you can't beat the GOP with a negative. This election proved that saying 'BIDEN SUCKS' over and over again at the top of your lungs didn't work. All politics are local again. Here in Iowa, the Democrats need a vision. A plan. A platform. Saying "The GOP is a disaster and Reynolds sucks" might be true, but it won't be enough.
The District Breakdowns
You cannot win meaningful state wide power by writing off District Four. You can't fucking do it any more. You're going to have to play a long game and investment and party organizing is probably going to take time, but corn don't grow overnight either.
Woodbury and Pottawattamie Counties should be the priority here. Can you win in Sioux City and Council Bluffs? I don't know- but if you can't, both of these counties need to be as close to 50/50 splits as you can make them.
Marshall, Webster, Boone Counties: Laura R Belin over at Bleeding Heartland has written a lot about Democratic losses in what she calls 'micropolitan' areas- in general, all the mid-size towns/cities need a lot more Democratic attention than they're getting now, but for District Four, I'd start with these three.
Again: there has been so much (perceived? Again: I don't know, because I'm not a Democrat) underinvestment in Western Iowa that it might take a very long time to see anything bear fruit over here. But you're in a new landscape now and you can't ignore Western Iowa anymore. If you can't at minimum be competitive in key spots out here, what are y'all doing?
Also: Melton got 271 votes in Osceola County. I realize that a lot rural counties don't have that many voters, but holy shit that's bad. The goal should be 500 minimum in these counties- ideally, 1,000.
Has to be the biggest disappointment of the night here. Axne could have held on.
I hadn't looked at the boundaries of this District for awhile and it's tougher than it was, but not impossible. Dallas County is key here-- I don't know if keeping it close will be enough going forward. You might need to win it and eat into the GOP vote down district. If you can run up the score in Polk County, win Dallas and not get totally smoked down district, it's not... impossible, but I expect this one will be more coin-flippy than people expect going forward.
This didn't end up being the showdown I thought it was going to be, but I think Liz Mathis did better than a lot of people realized. Poweshiek County and Floyd County stand out here as they were dead on 60/40 splits, which is what you need in counties like those. I'd have to check again, but I don't think Mathis logged less than 1,000 votes anywhere, which is good-- also what you want to see going forward.
Dubuque/Cerro Gordo/Winneshiek County are all where I'd spent some time and money. You need to win in Dubuque and you need good margins in Black Hawk and Linn County-- but if you can hit those three and keep it as close as you can in Cerro Gordo (Mason City) and Winneshiek (Decorah) it could be gettable. I'd also do some thinking about Tama and Hardin Counties here as well. I feel like Dems should be a little more competitive there than they have been.
You cannot just do it with Johnson County. I know we're as blue as blue can be, but you need more.
Scott County is a must win going forward.
I'd also say that Jasper and Warren County need to be as close as you can possibly get them. Single digits if you can.
Those micropolitan areas? Key here as well-- Jefferson County (Fairfield), Muscatine County, Lee County (Burlington, Ft. Madison) need to work on peeling those back
It's not a pretty picture. I feel like a lot of people- actual Democrats who have more invested in the party than I do- know that a wholesale change is needed from the State Dems to get something back and hopefully break the Trifecta in 2024. The Red Derecho made all of this harder-- the National Party isn't going to want to spend resources here. The Caucuses are going to get less attention and money here. It's going to be hard and it's going to require work-- and Deidre DeJear tried her best, but that slogan of hers: "Iowa is worth the work." should be engraved on the side of Party HQ. (I'd also add: "Iowa is worth the fight" because that's true as well. Despair is easy. Work is hard.)
I said it at the top and I'll say it now: I don't like the two party system. But if I'm stuck in a one party situation (even temporarily), I expect a level of competence from the opposition party. I expect a fight. I expect them to be getting after it and figuring out creative ways to get after voters they've ignored for way too long.
Blaming it on Fox News is lazy.
Blaming it on churches is myopic. (Jesus being a famously gun-toting, truck driving redneck type as we all know.)
There's a tendency (and that's why I'm beginning to think that political parties are just a stupid idea to begin with because both of them are doing it this week) for political parties to blame voters. This is an easy trap to fall into, because self-examination and introspection are hard. But they're what's needed here. The voters aren't wrong. You didn't sell them on your message. You didn't show up at all. You didn't connect somehow.
It's going to be hard. It's going to take time. It's probably going to be frustrating-- but between Iowa Starting Line and Bleeding Heartland I've seen so many guest editorials from county chairs begging, screaming that attention needs to be paid to their areas. It's time to listen to that. Not every one can just pick up and move and even if I was inclined too, I wouldn't necessarily want to either. I grew up here. I live here. I pay taxes here.
I may not be that much of a Democrat, but it's time for the despair to stop. I'm an independent voter and I'm waiting to be impressed. I'm waiting to be persuaded. And if there's one of me, there's probably more.
And that's really the core of my point: it's time for State Dems to get up off the mat and get to work.