ELECTION 2020

Mark Smith makes it official: He's stepping down as Iowa Democratic Party chairman

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mark Smith stands next to an inflatable pig Sept. 28, saying Democrats planned to use the
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mark Smith stands next to an inflatable pig Sept. 28, saying Democrats planned to use the pig against U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, saying she’d failed to keep her 2014 campaign pledge to “make ’em squeal” in Washington, D.C. Smith on Wednesday announced he is stepping down as the party’s chairman. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
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Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Mark Smith made it official that he will step down from the post he has held since his predecessor resigned after the party’s February caucuses.

Although the election results in Iowa were not what Democrats hoped for, Smith said “the values of the Democratic Party are the values of Iowans.”

“It is also clear that our party must rebuild, retool and re-energize moving forward,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

President Donald Trump carried the state, as he did in 2016, and in the only statewide contest, Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst was re-elected to a second term.

“We recruited amazing candidates who represented their districts, embraced new ways to reach voters when a global pandemic set in our state and brought in a hundred thousand more registered voters into our party,” Smith said. “But Republicans — carried by the top of the ticket — were able to rebut our offense.”

Republicans flipped one, perhaps two, Democratic U.S. House seats — a recount is underway in the 2nd District where Democrat Rita Hart is trailing by around 50 votes — held a third district and increased their majority in the Iowa Legislature.

The decision by Smith, the party’s fifth chairperson in five years, was not unexpected. Smith, 68, a state representative from Marshalltown since 2001, did not seek re-election this year.

His announcement set off speculation about his successor.

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Amber Gustafson of Ankeny, an unsuccessful legislative candidate and activist in Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, has announced she will seek the job.

Among others being mentioned are Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Cedar Rapids, who lost her U.S. House seat, and J.D. Scholten of Sioux City, the twice unsuccessful 4th District candidate.

Also mentioned are Deidre DeJear, who led California Sen. Kamala Harris’ caucus campaign, Jackie Norris, who worked for Michelle Obama, and Jodi Clemons, an activist and former candidate from Cedar County.

The next chairperson will lead Democrats’ efforts in 2022 to defeat GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds, assuming she runs for re-election, win back congressional and legislative seats and flip the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Chuck Grassley since 1981.

“When I took on this honored position in February, I did so with a mission to serve as a bridge to the future,” Smith said. “I will leave this post with optimism and renewed spirit for our party’s work ahead.”

Smith, a social worker, stepped into the chairmanship after Troy Price resigned following what was considered a caucus debacle. The party’s highly touted app-based reporting system failed to work as expected and delayed announcing who won the Democratic caucuses.

The Iowa Democratic Party eventually reported former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a razor-thin lead over Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Associated Press did not call a winner.

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

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