Jack Hatch had 98 problems in 2014, and now, apparently, I’m one.
The former Democratic gubernatorial nominee and state senator disliked my suggestion last week Democrats should look away from Des Moines when shopping for a 2018 nominee.
“You correctly reflected my terrible loss by winning only one county,” he said in an email. “That election is not an issue and I am not interested in litigating it. But now, peel back the first layer of Iowa politics and you will find new faces, new ideas, new organizing and new opportunities. Apparently, you feel more comfortable writing about the obvious.
“I don’t want to run for governor again. I am actively recruiting and meeting with anyone interested. I want a strong candidate who resonates with Iowa’s future and dismissing candidates from the largest city in the state is old news,” he wrote, urging me to read his book, “No Surrender.”
It is old news. Hatch is from Des Moines, as was former Gov. Chet Culver. Each guy was walloped by Gov. Terry Branstad. I also could have mentioned 2002, when Republicans nominated Doug Gross, a Des Moines lawyer. He lost to former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a former state senator and mayor from Mount Pleasant.
But my larger point is that the Democratic Party now is losing in places where it used to win or at least be competitive, in mid-size cities and in the rural areas surrounding those communities. Think Ottumwa or Fort Dodge. Hillary Clinton won just six Iowa counties, all with large cities or universities. U.S. Senate nominee Patty Judge won only Johnson County. Democrats were blown out in congressional races where they should be far more competitive.
I simply think Democrats might want to pick a gubernatorial nominee who has a strong connection with areas and voters beyond the usual strongholds. Democrats with that sort of resume tend to do better statewide.
Republicans captured the Statehouse running campaigns, admittedly misleading, painting Democrats as creatures of Des Moines. Donald Trump’s blasting urban “elites,” no matter the irony, helped him win Iowa. Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Bruce Braley wasn’t from Des Moines, but Republicans made sure he was seen as an out-of-touch city slicker in 2014.
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Democrats don’t have to abandon their principles to break these dubious narratives. But they do need the right candidates.
Hatch is right about the importance of new faces, ideas, organizing and opportunities. As Lynda Waddington wrote in her column Sunday, some voters last fall saw Democratic legislative candidates as obstructing while Republicans were proposing. Much has been written about how the Clinton campaign’s focus on Trump’s myriad problems in the final weeks left voters with less sense of what she hoped to accomplish as president.
So, clearly, Democrats need to be about more than stopping bad stuff Republicans want to do. They’ve got to have strong ideas for how they’d govern better. But I think the pitch has to be delivered by a candidate who can convince and connect with a broad array of voters.
Maybe that candidate will be from Des Moines, and defy old news.
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