Iowa Democrats conducting 2020 autopsy with eye toward 2022, new state chairman says

Ross Wilburn

Iowa state Democratic chairman
Ross Wilburn Iowa state Democratic chairman

JOHNSTON — Now that they have finished investigating what went wrong in reporting results of the 2020 caucuses, Iowa Democrats are now investigating what went wrong for them in the 2020 elections.

The assessment is crucial to help Democrats fare better in 2022 when there will again be critical races atop the ballot in Iowa, new state party chairman Ross Wilburn said Friday.

While other states flipped from red to blue in 2020, helping Democrats take back the White House and U.S. Senate majority, Iowa remained red. Former President Donald Trump won the state a second time, and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst won re-election by a comfortable margin. Republicans also flipped two Democrat-held U.S. House seats and expanded their majorities in the Iowa Legislature.

Wilburn, appearing on this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS, said Iowa Democrats are evaluating “the entire process” of the 2020 elections and why the party struggled here.

“Was it getting out late or too late with the door-to-door? Was it message?” Wilburn said. “That is going to be part of the analysis going forward.”

Earlier this year, Iowa Democrats, after a lengthy investigation, published a report detailing what issues led to a 2020 caucus-night debacle that rendered the party unable to report the results — with the world watching.

Wilburn is two weeks into the state chairman’s post. He was elected to replace interim chairman Mark Smith, who was elected following the post-caucus resignation of Troy Price.


A state lawmaker from Ames and a former Iowa City mayor, Wilburn is the first Black Iowan to serve as the state chairman of a major political party.

He said he believes a critical component for rebuilding the Iowa Democratic Party — and reversing its 2020 electoral fortunes — is constant rather that just organizing before elections.

“One thing that is clear to me is year-round organizing,” Wilburn said. “I’ve got to fundraise, we’ve got to fundraise so that we can have that year-round presence instead of starting, stopping, starting, stopping with the coordinated campaign.”

Wilburn said year-round organizing would help Iowa Democrats reach and develop relationships with more voters, especially in rural areas of the state, where the party has been hemorrhaging support over the past decade.

“Year-round organizing will help us have a presence in Iowa, rural, urban, across the board to have those relationships so that we’re not just coming to communities (and saying), ‘Vote for us,’ but (also) ‘What are the issues? What are you facing?’ ” he said. “And let’s work together to try to resolve those.

“I think that is part of the Democratic brand, grassroots organizing,” Wilburn said. “There’s no question that Democrats have lost ground and not really stuck to that message of, ‘What are the issues? What are Democrats doing to resolve them?’ ”

As for the beleaguered Iowa caucuses, Wilburn said he will work to maintain Iowa’s enviable first-in-the-nation status.

He deflected questions about whether Iowa Democrats would consider a compromise in which the four early voting states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Caroline and Nevada — all had caucuses or primaries on the same day.


He also had no position on whether Iowa Democrats and Iowa Republicans could conceivably caucus on different days or if Iowa should move away from caucuses to a primary election.

“It’s important that Iowa continues to have a critical role in our presidential nomination selection process,” Wilburn said. “We vet the candidates here. It gives them an opportunity to connect with real people, with real Iowans, and (hear) stories and come up with solutions.

“So we’re prepared to defend first-in-the-nation and make any changes we need to and move forward.”

To watch

“Iowa Press” airs on Iowa PBS at noon Sunday; at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Iowa PBS World; and can be watched at IowaPBS.org/iowapress.

Comments: (563) 333-2659; erin.murphy@lee.net

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