In the lead-up to the General Election on November 3, 2020, many members of the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) — including party leadership — had high hopes for a reckoning in our state in terms of weakening the Republican trifecta control. Flipping the Iowa House seemed within reach and IDP accordingly sunk millions of dollars into select races — mostly in urban districts.
Instead, the party suffered devastating losses up and down the ballot and now finds itself 18 seats behind in the Iowa House with the Iowa Senate still firmly in GOP hands; Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) is not up for re-election until 2022.
There were voices sounding the alarm on this election prior to November 3. Mostly rural voices who had witnessed the erosion of the Democratic Party in their spaces and districts for years if not decades.
It doesn’t feel good to witness the flatlining of our state party.
Rural Democrats are not happy about any of this.
We’re tired as dirt.
But being a rural Democrat means you plant prairie patches as a rule.
It means you know what it’s like being that single piece of metaphorical goldenrod somehow existing in a sea of corn.
It means you build on scorched earth as a rule.
The unfortunate reality is this feeling of being a #DirtRoadDem has now come for the entire Iowa Democratic Party. The rot that began in rural districts has made its way to urban seats with many in the state left wondering — what the hell happened?
We forgot our roots.
We forgot that fear breeds resentment.
We forgot to invest in every space.
Because sometimes it isn’t about just winning — to the tune of unheard-of dollars and cents.
It’s about keeping the entire ship afloat in the good times and the very bad.
It’s about standing up for the little guy — for the anchors on the landscape — lest they forget someone truly does care about them.
Conservative radio and media is a formidable foe — no doubt — but by ceding the rural spaces, IDP let Fox News and the like do the organizing for us. And everyday, working Iowans now feel abandoned in more ways than one.
And when you feel abandoned, you reach for what is easy, for what pulls at your gut, for what your neighbor is doing.
But we as rural Democrats see hope.
There is a way out of this.
It won’t be easy nor quick.
It’s also not revolutionary.
Iowa is one of the birthplaces of prairie populism — that brand of Democratic politics that says the little guy deserves a chance, too — and the soil here doesn’t forget.
The ‘Rural Strategy for the Iowa Democratic Party’ working document presented below was created by a broad group of rural Iowa Democrats from across the state including voices in Adair, Adams, Benton, Buena Vista, Carroll, Cass, Cedar, Dickinson, Guthrie, Howard, Iowa, Linn, Montgomery, Page, Polk, Pottawattamie, Poweshiek, Tama, and Woodbury counties.
Our party cannot give up — the little guy depends on us to stand up for them against corporate power, against a government that has forgotten they matter.
And whether the little guy realizes this truth yet or not, we as a party need to remember.
The people of this state are depending on us.
Rural Strategy for the Iowa Democratic Party
- Latina/Latino Outreach: We need a Latina/Latino voter plan beyond just recruiting a specific candidate (which more often than not feels like pandering). This population is not a monolith; more and more, Latinas/Latinos are migrating to Iowa from Florida via Cuba — and this population, in particular, tends to think the Democratic Party is communist (Sara Huddleston). We need to develop an authentic plan by drawing from the voices in the trenches to address this disconnect, especially in rural Iowa where our meatpacking plants tend to be located. There is a reason those plants are located in rural Iowa — it’s harder to unionize them that way.
- Voter Outreach: Voter outreach needs to be more efficient — one collective entity to avoid needless work, save time, and avoid oversaturating rural folks with phone calls and texts. Employ Iowa organizers in this capacity year-round and utilize deep canvassing.
- Year-round Organizing: Raise the rural platform by investing in the party infrastructure and provide county parties a financial stipend to do so. Relational organizing training for county parties. Rebuild the precincts. Show up in rural counties more than just once every two years during an election.
- Voter Database: The voter database (VAN or the like) needs to bring in consumer data so we can stop starting from scratch every campaign cycle by working down from a number. Campaigns come and go, while the electorate does not. Put candidates in the best-case-scenario every time by building off what was created before and enhancing it between election years. STOP charging campaign committees to use this resource. The party should not be making money off its candidates. This is completely counterintuitive. Is our goal to elect Democrats up and down the ticket or make money off of their runs for office?
- Down Ballot: Invest authentically in bottom-of-the-ballot recruitment by drawing from local county parties’ knowledge base. Stop depending on outside (expensive) consultants to tell Iowa what’s good for Iowa. Building down-ballot will increase the entire bench — from local school board seats to the governorship — steadily over time.
- Candidate-in-a-Can Approach: We need a ‘candidate-in-a-can’ approach to every election. Provide all new candidates an understandable, focused, step-by-step set of instructions for launching their campaign committees quickly. We need to stop expecting our statehouse candidates to recreate the wheel. Such guidance needs to include instructions for opening a campaign bank account, filing ethics reports, using VAN meaningfully, a list of vendors in their area, etc.
- Rebrand: More focused messaging such as ’Common Sense Capitalism’ in place of the “socialism” label the Democratic Party keeps getting hit with by GOP. REBRAND at the state level and stop stereotyping rural voters — we’re not all farmers. What do Democrats in Iowa stand for? Simplify the message; make it easy to understand. Build the local IOWA brand. We have to quit hitching our wagon to the national party. It’s killing us in rural Iowa.
- Rural Failures/Consolidation: Demonstrate how Republican failures affect those in rural Iowa — communities have been hollowed out by consolidation. The proof of Republican failure is plain as day, we just need to make the connection as a party.
- Coordination of Social Media from IDP: We need a dedicated person who does social media and LIFTS UP rural communities. Disseminates information regularly — particularly when the Iowa Legislature is in session — to the rural parties who can then spread it further in their local communities. Hire Tim Nelson! He raised an incredible amount of money for rural candidates.
- Party Business: Put the “fun” back in the Democratic Party. Meetings need to be more hospitable — from the top to the bottom. More welcoming to new people. Statewide messaging to this effect disseminated to all the county parties from IDP. In addition, we need a healthy IDP board. The Iowa Democratic Party must clean house and invest in healthy behaviors.
- Start Now!: Identify the messaging now and be prepared to build it for several years at least. Build momentum. Decades from now, this will pay dividends.
Remember there is no quick fix.
Rebuild our party by starting with the grassroots.