“We’ve been working hard. You’ve been working hard. All the candidates have been working really hard,” Mike Franken told the people gathered at the Iowa City Masonic Building for the Johnson County Democratic Party’s “Get Out the Vote” event on Friday night. “There’s more to do. But in the end, this is going to be the most revolutionary race in the state that deserves it the most in the nation.”
Franken was one the evening’s three featured speakers, along with Christina Bohannan and Deidre DeJear. Franken’s showing in a recent Iowa Poll was one reason for the crowd’s high level of energy and loud cheering during the event. The crowd was made up of veterans of many campaigns, and many were in black and gold to celebrate the University of Iowa’s homecoming.
The poll released earlier this month showed the retired admiral closer to incumbent Chuck Grassley than any Democrat has been since Grassley was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980.
It’s a given that Franken will carry Johnson County. The county’s Democrats are known for strong voter turnout. Johnson was the only county in the state to vote against Grassley in his last reelection bid in 2016, and the only one to vote against him in his 2010 reelection campaign.
Even so, Franken still encouraged the Johnson County Dems to redouble their efforts.
“Pick those people in this group who have an indefatigable history and can work like no other,” he said. “Copy what they do, amplify what they’ve done, integrate to the next tower and let’s make this work.”
“The state deserves it.”
Democrats in Iowa have traditionally used early voting options more than Republicans have. Last year, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature pushed through a bill creating restrictions on early and absentee voting, including making it harder to have satellite voting locations and prohibiting counties from having more than one drop box for absentee ballots, as well as reducing voting hours on Election Day. The Republicans who supported the bill said the new restrictions were needed to improve election integrity (though they conceded there was no problem with fraud in Iowa’s elections) and increase efficiency, although many county auditor’s said the restrictions would make administering elections more difficult.
The bill shortened the period for early voting from 29 days to 20 days, and prohibited auditors from sending out absentee ballots by mail, unless a voter submits a completed written request form to the auditor’s office.
Laura Belin of Bleeding Heartland looked at statewide early voting totals as of Oct. 27 and found a notable decline from the totals at the same point in the 2018 midterm election.
Democrats have requested about 77 percent as many ballots as by this point in 2018, and have returned just under 80 percent as many ballots as four years ago.
In contrast, Republicans have requested only 49 percent as many ballots this year as in 2018, and have returned about 55 percent as many ballots, compared to twelve days before the 2018 election.
In terms of numbers, Belin found Democrats have cast nearly 40,000 more early votes than Republicans, “a bigger lead than they had at the same point in 2014 or 2018.”
Still, Republicans hold a significant advantage in the number of registered voters. As of the beginning of October, the Secretary of State’s Office reported 596,776 Democrats classified as active voters, compared to 684,800 Republicans listed as active voters. Since the 2020 election, the number of Democrats listed as active voters has declined 15 percent, while Republican active numbers have only declined 6 percent.
Christina Bohannan’s race against Republican incumbent Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks in the newly constituted 1st Congressional District is a constant reminder for Johnson County Democrats how important even small numbers of votes can be.
“This was a six-vote race in 2020,” Bohannan said on Friday night. “This is a harder cycle — I’m not going to lie about it — this is a harder cycle with inflation and all those things going on, it’s a tough cycle for Democrats. But it’s absolutely winnable.”
Bohannan has been endorsed by Jim Leach and Dave Loebsack, the Republican and the Democrat who represented southeast Iowa in Congress before Miller-Meeks. Leach even changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat ahead of the June 7 primary.
“Today, the Republican Party that I spent so many years with has really let the country down,” Leach told the Quad City Times in July. “And we need to have a political party that operates in a way that both parties can participate.”
“The Republican Party has just torn itself apart, and it’s got to pull itself together. I’ll lean toward the Democratic Party as long as excellent people are running.”
Bohannan said that as she has campaigned across the district, she’s heard people across the political spectrum voicing the same concerns about education, social security, common-sense gun laws, access to quality healthcare and affordable prescription drugs. But Bohannan said she doesn’t see those concerns reflected in Miller-Meeks’ voting record in Congress.
“When I look at Rep. Miller-Meeks’ voting record … I think, ‘Gosh, she must represent a district with billionaires, pharmaceutical executives and Big Oil executives.’ That’s who she must represent. Because that is her voting record.”
Those special interests are also providing money for the commercials supporting Miller-Meeks flooding the airwaves with disinformation, Bohannan said. In particular, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a national group associated with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, has produced a series of ads accusing Bohannan of wanting to defund the police, a position she’s never held.
Bohannan said she believes it’s possible to cut through that disinformation with “real human-to-human conversation,” just “15 to 20 seconds on a doorstep” while door-knocking, or in conversations with neighbors and co-workers.
There hasn’t been reliable polling conducted in the district, but it is believed that race is close, with national political analysts, like the Cook Political Reports, giving incumbent Miller-Meeks the edge.
Results for Iowa Polls conducted in July and October showed a consistent 17 percentage point lead for Gov. Kim Reynolds over Deidre DeJear. But no one would have known that from the thunderous reception DeJear received when it was her turn to speak.
DeJear, who made history in 2018 as the first Black candidate for a statewide office in Iowa from a major party when she ran for Secretary of State in 2018, said she sees a path to victory this year, “but we know in order for us to get over this hump we need more people participating in the process.”
Reynolds was an incumbent in 2018, when she faced voters in her first run or governor, after Terry Branstad had resigned in 2017 to become President Trump’s ambassador to China. Despite that advantage, Reynolds was still vulnerable in 2018, DeJear pointed out.
“My opponent only won with a 37,000-vote advantage in 2018, 50.3 percent of the vote, and at that point in time for many Iowans, they didn’t see freedom on the ballot,” she said. “But now it is very, very clear and apparent that freedom is on the ballot.”
“The freedom for us to be able to send out kids to a school and know that they are going to come home safe — that’s on the ballot. The freedom for us to be able to exercise our right to vote and get people to engage with the process, and not fear a felony conviction — that type of freedom is on the ballot. Freedom to access a strong, quality public education system. That’s on our ballot right now.”
“And while we’re excited in these moments, are we willing to use this energy to encourage other people to participate?” DeJear asked the enthusiastic crowd. “Because I’ll be honest folks, there’s a lot of people out there who are waiting to hear our voice.”
In the October Iowa Poll, 51 percent of all respondents said they didn’t know enough about DeJear to form an opinion. That number includes 63 percent of the poll’s independents and 34 percent of its Democrats.
“I say this every time I connect with you all, but I thought by this time we would have made a little bit more headway,” DeJear said, “and I’m asking you all to help us in this process.”
DeJear said she was confident that victory on Nov. 8 is possible, because victories against tougher odds have been won in the past.
“But democracy gives us this pathway for more opportunities to arise,” DeJear said. “Right now, we have a governor who does not believe in freedom for all of us. And we don’t have to figure out why she feels the way she feels and why she’s doing what she’s doing, we don’t even have to call her out by name for it. Because the most powerful thing we can do in this process is make sure people show up and vote her out on Nov. 8.”