By Chad Cooper, Cedar Rapids
The Iowa Democratic Party has had a rough year. First, the bungling of last February’s caucuses, and now a dismal showing in races across the state on Nov. 3.
The elevation and financial backing of moderate, middle-of-the-road candidates clearly isn’t a winning strategy. It’s not effectively motivating progressives or swinging undecided and independent voters in this state. While U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer’s loss in the 1st Congressional District is befuddling given her record of diligent work for Iowans in Congress, and Rita Hart’s fate is dangling by narrow margins in the 2nd Congressional District, the campaigns of Hart and U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield were lackluster affairs from the beginning.
Those candidates peddled a compromising work-with-anyone message that has come to commonly serve as a euphemism for inaction and political expediency. J.D. Scholten went out of his way to make a case to farmers and rural voters in the 4th District and lost by 24 points. Finkenauer applied a similar approach and found herself on the losing end in 2020 against a proven plagiarist. Meanwhile, there are issues in this country and state that demand urgent action, including social justice, human rights, environmental protection and true universal affordable healthcare.
Democrats are worried about continuing to lose ground in rural counties, but that worry appears shortsighted. The demographic trends in Iowa show a state losing rural population as young people either move to the larger metro areas or leave the state entirely. Iowa Democrats are chasing a diminishing, albeit entrenched, population. And, what good is appealing to rural voters if it means undercutting your principles? In just this last election cycle, we saw candidates like Greenfield and Hart stiff-arm issues like police reform and single-payer health insurance to avoid rustling rural feathers.
Democrats are too busy running from Republican accusations of socialism and “radical liberalism” instead of doubling down and convincing voters across the state that progressive policies will actually benefit them and their families. When the Democratic Party pushes away its progressive aspects, it loses its identity. Democrats have allowed Republicans to set the field of play, and they’re wondering why they’re losing?
IDP Chair Mark Smith, in a recent email to registered Democrats, implored all to “hug your loved ones and take a well-deserved break.” Progressives are restless, Mr. Smith, and there are issues that can’t wait. This is not the time for passivity. Now is the time to establish a cohesive progressive message and not back down. BIPOC, the LGBTQ+ community and other subjugated people in this state can’t afford another election cycle like this.
The IDP and national Democratic Party are in moderation stasis. Even in a year with record voter participation, Iowa Democrats lost ground in the state. It appears the IDP and prominent Democrats are unwilling to commit to truly progressive candidates to motivate young people, attract voters to the state and transform the base for fear of alienating moderate voters and offending myopic rural sensibilities. Instead, they seem content pandering to the fading rural vote while rearranging the deck chairs on the sinking ship of political moderation. Good luck with that.
A version of this letter was previously published by Bleeding Heartland.