Guest Columnist

From Idaho to Iowa - a 2020 spouse's perspective

Presidential hopeful Congressman John Delaney (D-MD) chats with attendees after speaking at a Meet and Greet at Merge in
Presidential hopeful Congressman John Delaney (D-MD) chats with attendees after speaking at a Meet and Greet at Merge in Iowa City on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

I’m biased, but perhaps the best vantage point to understand the current presidential race is through the lens of a political spouse. Campaigning with my husband, John Delaney, has been an amazing and heart-warming experience - particularly in Iowa. As the daughter of an Idaho potato farmer, maybe I relate on a personal level to the challenges facing rural America.

After visiting all 99 counties in Iowa and campaigning at over 500 events in early primary states, I have seen first-hand that people are not as divided as reported in the media and that they yearn for community and common purpose.

In fact, John entered the race to try and bring people together by offering politically centrist and common-sense solutions to the ingrained challenges facing the nation, particularly in rural America. A decades long failure to invest in our small towns, created an opportunity for a President like Donald Trump, to win over rural voters think government is broken and no longer trust the establishment politicians in either party.

These insights crystalized for me during our “Send A Message” bus tour of 40 towns, which stopped in Doon, Iowa – a town much like my hometown of Buhl, Idaho. Doon faces many of the challenges affecting too much of rural America, including an aging workforce, struggling businesses and farms and a desperate need for investment and infrastructure.

In 2016, Donald Trump won towns like Doon by significant margins. That being said, we felt this trip was necessary because the only way to really connect with people, and change their minds, is to meet them in person and talk about realistic solutions that can attract the bipartisan support needed to pass a divided Congress.

As our Delaney bus “Big Blue” pulled up to a local grill in Doon, it seemed that much of the town had turned out. There were lots of folks in “Trump 2020” shirts or wearing “Make America Great” caps.

John began his remarks affirming that a president should never seek to divide a country, but unify it. A woman in a red MAGA hat shouted, “Why do you hate Trump?” It seemed we were off to a shaky start, but John warmly replied that he doesn’t hate Trump but feels strongly that governing means representing all Americans – including those who did not vote for you.

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As the event continued, we began to see heads nodding in agreement and people commenting how tired they were of partisan gridlock. The voters of America, right andlLeft, are hungry for real solutions and tired of partisan bickering. They want to hear that politicians are serious about investing in rural communities, and not letting them slide further into despair.

For example, one farmer complained how new businesses seemed to be going everywhere else but Iowa. John concurred, bemoaning the fact that 80 percent of the venture capital in this country now goes to only 50 out of 3,100 counties in the United States. But he offered hope that through smart economic incentives, government contracts preferences and innovative tax policies, we can drive investment into rural communities left behind. John built two successful companies and created thousands of jobs in rural areas, because he believed in the work ethic of small-town America. He wants to do the same for Iowa.

Leaving the dinner, I approached the booth where I had greeted the woman in a “Trump 2020” hat when we arrived. We spoke for a moment and I thanked her for listening to us. We actually found common ground, when I mentioned that our family would not want to live in a country where we all looked alike, thought alike, and worshipped alike. She agreed and wished us well.

Back on the bus, everyone was a little dumb struck that the evening had turned out so well. After all, we were in the heart of Trump country. In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. People are respectful of authenticity and appreciate candidates who propose realistic solutions.

When John was in business he often said that “the cost of doing nothing is not nothing.” America cannot afford to do nothing, but we cannot propose solutions which are not politically feasible. We won’t change minds if we are not honest with voters about what can be accomplished.

In the final days of this Iowa campaign we continue to step forward in joy, faith and common purpose. We are grateful to the people of Iowa for a journey that has been both a blessing and a privilege.

April McClain-Delaney is an attorney and the wife of John Delaney, a former Maryland Congressman running for the Democratic nomination for president. She currently is the Washington director of the non-profit Common Sense Media.

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