‘There are barriers that one campaign cannot overcome’: Ras Smith ends his run for governor

Rep. Ras Smith in Cedar Rapids, Oct. 20, 2021. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

Rep. Ras Smith announced on Wednesday morning he had suspended his campaign for Iowa governor.

In June, Smith became the first Democrat to launch a campaign for his party’s 2022 nomination. Smith began with an optimistic tone that colored his six-month-long campaign, appealing for unity across social and ideological divisions based on shared experiences as Iowans.

“No matter the differences, we’re all looking for to our common struggles,” Smith said in his first campaign video. “A search for the same things.”

In a video message posted on Wednesday, a more somber-sounding Smith thanked his supporters and the people he’s talked to along the campaign trail.

“Knowing you better has helped me to better know Iowa and to really love Iowa even more,” he said.

But there was something else Smith learned as he campaigned. He said, “this process has also exposed the drastic disconnect between the current political system and the people.”

“I’ve come to the heartbreaking conclusion that there are barriers that one campaign cannot overcome, no matter how hard we work or how faithfully we represent the majority of hardworking Iowans.”

Smith did not say what those barriers are in the video, but in a Dec. 24 post he wrote for Bleeding Heartland, he discussed the difficulty he was having finding support within his own party.

I never expected to be given as equal a shot as my white counterparts. Because that’s reality. I’ve been a Black man in Iowa my entire life. What I didn’t expect was to be treated as insignificant by the donor class of my own party. After months of phone calls, letters, repeated outreach, to not receive a call back or be given an opportunity to meet has felt disrespectful.

I can’t help but wonder if the party that I’ve dedicated all of myself to over the past six years would be perpetuating the narrative that I “can’t compete” or actively recruiting others to jump into a race with qualified candidates, if the front runner for the Democratic nomination for governor of Iowa were white.

The 34-year-old lawmaker, who has represented Waterloo in the Iowa House of Representatives since 2017, would have been both the first Black candidate to win a statewide office and the youngest person ever to serve as Iowa’s governor if he was been elected in this November’s election.

Smith is one of only eight people of color serving in the Iowa House (the Iowa Senate is all white), where he has developed a reputation for being able to work with the Republican lawmakers who have control both the House and Senate, as well as his fellow Democrats, conservative or progressive. In 2020, he was a key player in the extraordinary effort that led to a police reform bill being unanimously approved in the course of a single day. That quick approval was the result of weeks of work Smith had done behind the scenes convincing fellow legislators that the reforms needed to be passed in response to the social justice protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

Smith said in his video that he would take the experience he’s had campaigning with him as he returns to the Iowa Capitol next week to begin the 2022 legislative session.

“It’s reaffirmed to me the magnitude of the mission-driven work that lies ahead to ensure that Iowa’s a state where we’re all not just surviving, but we’re thriving.”

Smith’s withdrawal from the race leaves Deidre DeJear as the only prominent Democrat running for governor. DeJear, a Des Moines businessperson and community activist, made history with her run for Secretary of State in 2020, when she became the first Black candidate for a statewide office in Iowa to win the nomination of a major party.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday following his announcement, DeJear praised Smith for “his incredible commitment to public service & creating a better Iowa for all.”

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