Democratic activists and candidates gathered on Saturday on sunny and warm grounds for the Polk County Democrats’ annual Steak Fry, which returned in person this year (with numerous COVID precautions). Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood presented the event to give a great insight into what young leadership in Congress looks like, while Iowa Democratic candidates in 2022 used it as an opportunity to generate enthusiasm for their campaign.
As in previous years, this was a good opportunity to measure the current Democratic field and general party trends. And this is my chance to finally write some analysis on Iowa politics for the first time in a long time (or write about anything, really).
Here are some take out I had from the event.
Candidates insist on humble roots
For several Democratic candidates, this was their first time running to activists in central Iowa. Most of them have led personal stories emphasizing humble roots as a countercurrent to the online imagery of Democrats as disconnected elites.
âI grew up in a trailer on a dirt road,â said Christina Bohannan, current District 2 candidate. âNeither of my parents graduated from high school. My dad grew up on a farm, but they couldn’t quite make ends meet, so he quit school and became a construction workerâ¦ Because I had a good chance I’m here today ‘ hui in front of you, candidate for the United States Congress. “
Liz Mathis, a candidate in the 1st arrondissement, is best known for her years as a TV presenter, but she led her speech by talking about being raised on a family farm, peeling corn and mowing a cemetery for the money she paid for college.
State Representative Ras Smith, running for governor, explained how his grandmother and father, who grew up on a Mississippi sharecropping plantation, got into the back of a station wagon to flee to Iowa in 1957, as well as the family from Grundy County. close of theirs.
Because Theresa Greenfield lost in 2020, the analysis of some thereafter dismissed everything she did as failure. But I still argue that she did a much better job in her announcements of posing as a noteworthy Iowan than the previous Democratic nominees in this state. The loss of Greenfield was due to other factors.
So it was heartening to see Democrats continue this improvement and focus on more relevant personal stories to build voter confidence first instead of just hitting them with bland, poll-tested political messages. There was some substance there too yesterday, but for it to resonate with the Iowans, they need an authentic image of you personally to fight against the national partisan attacks that inevitably come.
Take him to the republicans
There were no words from the speaker lineup as they presented the case against the Republicans in 2022.
In a forceful speech, Representative Cindy Axne lambasted many of her colleagues in the Republican House who “consider [the Capitol insurrection] inconsequential âby voting against the investigation, then targeted Gov. Kim Reynolds’ handling of the pandemic.
The new Congressional candidates have started to lay the groundwork against their potential Republican opponents.
“There are some differences between my opponent and me,” said Mathis. âI was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was raised on a family farm. My father was a WWII veteran. My mother was a teacher in a one-class school.
âWe don’t need someone telling a lie about a deadly virus that has killed thousands of Iowans,â Bohannan said, probably referring to a number of instances where Rep Mariannette Miller-Meeks has shared false or questionable opinions about COVID-19.
The two new candidates for secretary of state also bluntly criticized the Republicans’ new election laws and incumbent President Paul Pate.
âPeople, what do you call that for what it is: voter suppression,â Linn County Auditor Joel Miller said. “… What else could we expect from a friend of Donald Trump?” “
“They know they can’t say it’s a fraud, so what they’re doing is changing the rules,” added Eric Van Lancker, Clinton County Auditor. “They’re working on the umpires, hoping the Iowans lose faith in their voting system.”
Meanwhile, State Auditor Rob Sand has discussed religion in politics, calling out Reynolds and other Republicans for turning their Christianity into a political weapon and not following his actual teachings.
“We are in a place where someone who is a leader of this party, who also calls himself a Christian, says that we have no space, we have no place to bring migrant children into the country. ‘State of Iowa,’ Sand said. . “Who said, ‘Let the little children come to me? “Who said:” Welcome abroad? I am so tired of this fiction that Christianity belongs to a political party in this country. “
And yes, sure, it’s a Democratic Party event where you’d expect some red meat rhetoric, but I’ve noticed that most of the candidates this year are taking a harder edge in their posts across all mediums. It’s a welcome change from some of the Iowa campaigns of recent years that thought picking up swing voters meant being harmless to the point where you weren’t standing up for anything instead of arguing directly against Republicans. I guess we have yet to see if this continues in their TV commercials later in the cycle.
Miller anchors office for Democrats
The only relevant moment of the day was Attorney General Tom Miller who announced he would run for his 11th term. During his speech, Miller laid out his top priorities – spending opioid settlement funds wisely and pursuing antitrust cases against social media giants (more from the Starting Line on all of this later).
In previous years, some might prefer to see Miller step down to make room for a new generation of leaders in the office. But it’s not as if the young stars or rising new stars of the Iowa Democratic Party haven’t found their own way to elected office or prominence in recent years, and given the state of the art supporters of Iowa, many Democrats are probably happy to have a strong incumbent. running again for a statewide office. Miller’s re-election is by no means a given in this Trumpy era, but it will help as many people as possible to have him on the ballot again.
For now, a lack of urgency
While it was great to see the Democrats return at a major event, you couldn’t help but compare it to years past and notice the difference. There appeared to be around 250 participants and 100 other staff, applicants and volunteers on site. It always fits a good political event in Iowa, but it is the Steak Fry, which is usually the main Democratic event of the year.
No, this is not a presidential caucus year, and yes, the pandemic makes people wary of big events (even if it was outside, spaced out and you had to be vaccinated to attend), and yes, it was surprisingly hot for mid-September.
But remember at this point, four years ago in 2017, more than 20 Democrats were running in the primaries for the governor and the four congressional districts combined – and there wasn’t even a seat in the US Senate. this year. There was excitement and enthusiasm to return the blue seats (which Axne, Abby Finkenauer and Sand would do) and to push back the presidency of Donald Trump.
That year’s campaigns also mobilized far more individual supporters than at this year’s Steak Fry (although this year DeJear had a nice crowd with her on stage and Finkenauer made an entrance with a fire truck. ). Our story, four years ago, estimated attendance at around 1,500 people, and several campaigns held large rallies and marches prior to the event. Also in 2017, the crowd felt these moments mattered as the primaries were hotly contested and there was momentum ahead of next fall’s election.
There hasn’t been a similar scramble this year for party nominations – Democrats have one candidate / incumbent each for three congressional districts, and everyone has sort of ignored the fact that there is not even serious names for the 4th district. The gubernatorial post did not take off as some expected despite an intense desire by the Democratic base to defeat Reynolds, leading others to seriously consider launching later than usual (Senator Pam Jochum think about it openly while a few other names circulate behind the scenes).
For now, it appears the attention of the party’s militant base is focused elsewhere, on school districts and mask warrants and Reynolds’ COVID actions. Or, as I have heard in many personal conversations, there is still lingering burnout from 2020.
It’s a shame there aren’t more Democratic eyeballs on these campaigns because they lack exciting new candidates.
Democrats outside of Johnson County probably don’t know much about Bohannan other than that she defeated an incumbent lawmaker in a two-on-one primary in 2020. Watching her at Steak Fry demonstrated in part how she achieved such a feat and why she is already a candidate for Congress â Bohannan is a dynamic speaker with a down-to-earth personal experience that she presents very well. And Mathis’ speech demonstrated that she was more than living up to the expectations of her candidacy that many party members have been clamoring for since joining the Statehouse in 2011.
Democrats go really want to quickly get to know these two better if they’re paired up in a Lean Democratic Congress district that combines Linn and Johnson counties, either as they are in that first redistribution map, or another if the first is rejected.
And finally, it’s also a disappointment that Democrats statewide don’t see this side of candidates more often. Most of us are only introduced to new suitors through Facebook fundraising ads that boil down to them saying, âHello, I’m running against this Republican you don’t like. Give me $ 5. But that’s a story for another time.
by Pat Rynard