116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It might be hard to believe now, but it wasn’t so long ago that Democrats in Iowa made up a formidable political party.
A little over than a decade ago, Democrats enjoyed unified control of the Iowa Legislature and governorship for four straight years. As recently as 2012, there were more Democrats representing Iowa in Congress than Republicans. Barack Obama carried the state twice.
But as the state has turned redder, Democrats have not adapted.
Iowa’s floundering Democrats don’t seem to have a grand vision, a governing philosophy or even a detailed set of policy positions. Their message is simple — they are not Republicans and they hope you’ll donate to their campaigns.
Abby Finkenauer, Fred Hubbell, Rita Hart, Theresa Greenfield. What do they have in common? They’re all bland moderates who have won primaries over more progressive opponents. They’ve all been backed by big money, often from out of state. And, importantly, none of them are in elected office right now.
Clearly, it has not been a formula for success. But that won’t stop Democrats from trying again.
Finkenauer announced this week she will run for U.S. Senate in 2022. She previously served in the Iowa House and one term in the U.S. House before losing to U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson last year.
On the day she announced her Senate bid, Finkenauer’s campaign launched at least 40 Facebook ads. Without a news conference or a full campaign website, the paid messages are the most detailed look we have at Finkenauer as a would-be senator.
So, what is Finkenauer running on? We know from the ads that she thinks Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell are bad while “hard work” and “courage” are good. That’s about as far as it goes. Presumably she supports baseball and apple pie as well.
On some of the issues where Republicans frustrate me most — law enforcement reform, immigration, foreign policy — Iowa Democrats aren’t offering much of an alternative.
The closest she gets to an actual policy position is condemning the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and the response by Republicans in Congress. She almost hints at term limits (“Decade after decade since he’s been in the Senate (since 1980!) … ”) but she doesn’t actually support term limits, she said during her last campaign.
Some of Finkenauer’s Facebook ads are not actually targeted at Iowans. They’re also being served to people in other states, most often in California. That happens to be the biggest state in the country, and also home to the largest number of Democratic campaign donors.
“Iowa is in play,” “I am running to win,” and “protect our Democratic Senate majority,” Finkenauer’s ads say.
And there is the real basis for the Finkenauer campaign — raising money, thereby forcing the other side to spend their money on what should be an easily winnable race. It’s a common strategy, but not a winning one.
I’m a Republican, but I often disagree with my party and I wish our state had a strong opposition party to hold the majority in check.
I might even vote for a Democrat for Congress if the right one came along. But on some of the issues where Republicans frustrate me most — law enforcement reform, immigration, foreign policy — Iowa Democrats aren’t offering much of an alternative. They bloviate on those topics when an opposing executive is in power, but they don’t actually support fundamental change.
It is a little bit silly to see Iowa Republicans liken Finkenauer and other Iowa Democrats to the radical left. They are the opposite of radical — they are cautious, calculating and eager to follow the whims of public opinion.
When Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, he was seen as the progressive candidate, running against the Iraq War that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had supported. Obama might be a moderate by 2021 standards, but back then Iowa Democrats took a chance on a bold candidate, and they were handsomely rewarded for it.
Since then, Iowa Democrats have often played it safe by nominating candidates anointed by outside groups. With that, they risk becoming a perpetual minority party in Iowa.
This doesn’t mean a radical leftist could win a statewide election in Iowa. But Democrats could at least try nominating someone who actually believes in something besides not being a Republican.
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