Government

Iowa Democrats down but not out over change to party's convention

Biden will be nominated next month in a virtual event

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks Tuesday during a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., where circles ma
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks Tuesday during a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., where circles mark the socially distanced zones for reporters. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

They’re disappointed, but Iowa Democrats who had planned this week on being in Milwaukee to formally nominate Joe Biden for president agree with the party’s decision to conduct a virtual convention next month.

“I’d be concerned if we were all there,” said Johnson County Democratic Party Chairman Ed Cranston.

In light of the risk of large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic National Committee moved its convention from this week to Aug. 17-20. It will be “anchored” in Milwaukee, but with far fewer people attending. Iowa Democratic Party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said she is not aware that any of the 54 54 Iowa delegates and alternates will attend that convention in person.

“The key thing here is that we’ll be celebrating Biden’s nomination from a safe social distance,” she said. Iowans remain “committed to safety and electing a Democrat to the White House, and this is the best way for us to be able to do that.”

She can’t predict what the virtual convention will look like, but said the state party will make sure Iowa voices are heard during it.

“We’ll definitely be continuing to get creative about ways that we can reach people and promote our messaging,” McClure said.

Longtime party activist Sandy Dockendorff of Danville was looking forward to making her first trip to a national convention, “so I have a little bit of regret about not being there.” However, as a first-time candidate for the Iowa House, Dockendorff is using her “free” time this week to work on her campaign to unseat Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun.

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Likewise, Democrats 1st District Rep. Abby Finkenauer and 2nd District candidate Rita Hart will skip the August convention to campaign. Current 2nd District Rep. Dave Loebsack also plans to skip the convention. Senate nominee Theresa Greenfield also plans to skip the convention, but may consider virtual options to engage voters.

The national party conventions have been criticized for lacking substance. News outlets have questioned whether they warrant the level of coverage, especially on live TV, they usually get.

In many ways, the conventions are pep rallies for the parties. Although there is a danger of that getting lost in a virtual convention, former Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal thinks that threat will be offset by the excitement among Democrats.

“In some years, the excitement is about a new candidate that people don’t really know,” the former Council Bluffs legislator said. “So Barack Obama came from nowhere. In some cycles, that’s kind of neat for Democrats to go to the convention and get to know and size-up a nominee.

“We lose some of the excitement” without a convention, Gronstal said, “But this year particularly, Democrats know Joe Biden. Democrats are incredibly highly motivated. They see real opportunity to beat Donald Trump. So, at one level, I don’t think that excitement is as important this year because it’s already been generated.”

Cranston has seen the excitement. In 2016, he was a volunteer at the convention in Philadelphia, spending all day as part of a 200-team that distributed 90,000 signs to people every night.

“I have the experience of the excitement of all of those folks, all thinking the same thing,” Cranston said. “It was exciting. It was so much fun.”

After having so many candidates and campaign workers in Iowa for so long before the February caucuses, Cranston was looking forward to reconnecting with them at the convention.

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He said he’ll miss those opportunities at the state delegation’s daily breakfasts and caucuses to meet party leaders and up-and-coming party members.

delegates expect the convention changes will not be permanent.

“I can’t imagine that in four years we won’t be back to some other semblance of normal,” Gronstal said. “Human beings are social creatures and that’s what makes this so difficult. It’s not just politics; lots of things are changed for the moment, but I would be surprised in four years that there isn’t a convention.

Political activists — Democrats and Republicans — “will always want to gather,” said McClure. “There will be some version of a convention.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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