Iowa Summer Pandemic Politics

RAGBRAI pies at the Norwalk Christian Church, July 2019. Photo credit – Trish Nelson

Independence Day is over! Time to get rolling on the fall campaign to elect Democrats! Not so fast…

The 2020 general election cycle has been like no other. Iowa didn’t stand a chance of influencing the national debate after the precinct caucuses yielded a field of five candidates who were awarded national delegates. Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, placed fourth with six of 41 delegates, according to the Iowa Democratic Party website. A botched reporting process took Iowa out of the limelight as we didn’t certify caucus results until the race had moved on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Then the coronavirus hit the state. On March 9, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a disaster emergency proclamation regarding COVID-19. Political campaigns moved on line, conducting fundraising, voter contact, forums, and other events via telephone, text, email, and video conferencing. We got to know Zoom.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on political campaigning is far from over. There is expected to be little door-to-door canvassing, few in person events, and forget about the usual slate of county and state fairs, parades, pancake breakfasts, fish fries, and chili suppers. Politics in the pandemic seems much less significant than the public health emergency coupled inextricably with the economic downturn the pandemic is causing, to be honest. Whatever our federal and state governments are doing to mitigate the pandemic, it’s not working. The president’s recent guidance, parroted by the Iowa governor, is, “we need to live with it.”

On June 2 Theresa Greenfield became our nominee for U.S. Senate and all Democratic attention could turn to defeating incumbent Joni Ernst. In the age of Trump it seems possible to defeat the incumbent senator who had a solid win against Democrat Bruce Braley in 2014. The race will be tight and a lot of money will be spent by the candidates and political action committees.

In Iowa’s four congressional districts we have a slate of outstanding candidates in Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Rita Hart (IA-02), Cindy Axne (IA-03) and J.D. Scholten (IA-04). They are working their campaigns and appear to have resources to do so. We can also expect each of them to be underdogs in the campaign cash department as Republicans have an unlimited supply of big dollar donors and political action committees just as in the U.S. Senate race.

The Iowa Senate seems out of reach for Democrats this cycle but we could make headway in the 18-32 minority, setting the stage for a majority in 2022. In the House of Representatives, flipping the majority to Democratic is within reach in 2020. If we could gain a House majority that would buffer the worst impulses of the Republican Senate and governor.

What’s an active Democrat to do? Get involved with electing Democrats.

While the way we support Democratic political campaigns may differ this cycle, the endgame is the same. Keeping track of voter contacts and make sure we reach out to everyone possible. In the pandemic that means participating where one can in virtual phone and text banks, and staying in touch with candidates through Facebook pages and virtual events. It also means adding politics to the list of things one discusses with friends and relatives. We each need our own list of people we seek to convince to vote Democratic whether it is provided by the party or not.

Politics has been weird this cycle. I’m okay with change yet the lack of person to person contact at events, door knocking, and fund raisers is unsettling. I have been walking in parades with Democrats and Democratic candidates for 20 years. Partly, I am involved in politics for this type of in person interaction. It’s hard to get fired up about a Zoom call the way it is to obtain a fresh list for door knocking.

The Iowa Democratic Party is being cautious about the risk of campaigning in the pandemic. An IDP employee explained it this way in an email.

The fear is that we might alienate Dems who are being extra cautious right now if we start showing up at their doors. The phones are the best option we have without in person contact being on the table, but hopefully it will become an option again soon.

Rank and file Democrats like me have little choice but to support what the state party and campaigns want to do. The thing is, we need to get everyone possible to vote for Democrats.

It’s clear no preference voters, along with some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for Joe Biden. They may not be willing to vote Democratic in federal and down-ticket races so we need to be nuanced in our approach to potential ticket splitters. We want those Biden votes for sure. If they are willing to pull the lever for Theresa Greenfield as well, that’s better. The secret sauce of Dave Loebsack’s long tenure is appealing to this type of ticket-splitting voter. A one size fits all campaign as we’ve run them previously hasn’t been as nuanced as 2020 demands.

My advice if you are reading this post is do three things: 1. Set a monthly budget to contribute to your favorite Democratic candidate. Almost anyone can afford a recurring small donation to the Iowa Democratic Party; 2. Make a personal list of people — friends, family, neighbors, and social groups — to contact about the election and then do it. Some may be resolute about their support for a candidate we do not prefer. Don’t beat them over the head with it but have that conversation; and 3. Get involved with formal party activities virtually or in person if they exist. The basic needs of the coronavirus pandemic — washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask or shield in public, staying home if sick — are straight forward. If events support these precautions, they are worth considering for participation.

Summer is here, as is the pandemic. Democratic politics will adjust and move forward, hopefully toward victory in November.

This entry was posted in 2020 election campaign, politics, Progressive Community, progressive values and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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