DES MOINES — The donors and activists spoke loudly and clearly: Iowa Democrats are riled up.
The Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall fundraiser drew roughly 3,000 last Monday night to Des Moines. State party Chairman Troy Price said that over the last decade, only the presidential caucus-year events in 2007 and 2015 were more successful in terms of attendance and fundraising.
Perhaps just as significant as the money raised was the enthusiasm on display inside the Iowa Events Center.
The crowd was raucous and vocal. When all of the party’s 2018 candidates — for governor, Congress and other state offices — were introduced at once, the ovation was full-throated.
While the 2018 elections — and Iowa Democrats’ first chance to get up off the mat after consecutive electoral poundings — are still nearly a year away, this event showed that at this point they are motivated.
“It was a great event. It was a great display of the energy and enthusiasm that Democrats have out there,” Price said a couple of days after the event during an interview at his office. “I think, on the whole, people walked out of that room feeling that the Democratic Party is coming back, the Democratic Party is strong, and the Democratic Party is well on its way toward victory next year.”
One lathered-up crowd, of course, does not guarantee election night success 12 months later. But at the very least, the event was reassuring to Democrats who have been hoping to bottle the energy that first spiked this past spring in the form of massive crowds at protests, marches and town halls and forums.
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“People were depressed after the election, they were angry after the first part of this year, and now they’re fired up and they’re activated going into the fall of this year and going into 2018,” Price said. “I think you’re going to continue to see that energy grow.”
A desire to stem the electoral tide in Iowa and Washington — Republicans have been the big winners in three of the past four elections, both in Iowa and the nation — and an opportunity to crack the GOP’s stranglehold on the state Capitol in 2018 are fueling Iowa Democrats these days, and what kept the decibel meter busy at last week’s event.
Each of the seven Democratic gubernatorial candidates spoke, in what probably will be their final opportunity to address so many Democrats in one place until a potential primary debate series sometime next year. A few of the campaigns used the opportunity, as others have at past Democratic fundraisers, to show the strength of their organization thus far.
The campaigns for Nate Boulton and Fred Hubbell dominated the scene. Although their campaigns weren’t the only to make some noise, they were definitely the loudest, and they bought far and away the most tables at the event.
Team Boulton displayed “Run with Nate” in lights, banged plastic thunder sticks and chanted with moments in Boulton’s speech.
Hubbell’s supporters came decked out in green T-shirts and lights, and also had a lighted display of Hubbell’s name.
Andy McGuire’s supporters also had lighted “Andy” signs, and Cathy Glasson’s supporters did choreographed chants during her remarks.
Some of the remarks contained the first few hints of elbows being thrown in the primary campaign. Boulton said he was the first to stand up to former Gov. Terry Branstad’s agenda during the 2017 legislative session, and his union supporters held up spoons during Hubbell’s speech, an apparent reference to Hubbell’s upbringing in a wealthy Des Moines family.
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And John Norris said during his remarks that the primary will not be won by purchasing tables at fundraisers, a fairly clear reference to the Boulton and Hubbell campaigns.
There is a lot at stake for Iowa Democrats in 2018, and there is a lot of energy in the party right now as the night showed.
In many ways, the Iowa Democratic Party was the biggest winner Monday night. For the party, the next challenge awaits: turning that energy into electoral success.
“The energy that’s out there right now is just so raw and it’s so real,” Price said. “There’s just so much energy out there. It’s making sure we channel it into the most effective way possible.”
Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.