Iowa Democratic Election Post-Mortem

still a valuable tool

It is Thanksgiving week of what has been one of the most intense years in our lives. Not only were we tasked with removing the worst president ever from office in an election that saw incredible voter suppression of many styles, but we had to do so during one of the worst and deadliest pandemics that the world had seen in a long time. This was not an easy lift.

Iowa Democrats did not distinguish themselves in this election. Going in it felt like we had a great set up for the year. We had great candidates from the highest levels – Biden and Harris for the top slots – Theresa Greenfield with a great story for US Senate facing a weak Joni Ernst who called for cutting Social Security in an older state and also had no idea what the price of soy beans is – great candidates at the US House level with incumbents Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne with Rita Hart in the 2nd district with a great story as a teacher and farmer. The only weak spot seemed to be the 4th district where the Republicans removed their anchor, Steve King, and greatly improved their chances.

At the state house and state senate levels we had some stellar candidates with great stories of community involvement and lifetimes of leadership. The only real glitch in the campaigns seemed to be pulling back on door-knocking where candidates can get to know the electorate face to face. Maybe it was a mistake to pull back on the door-knocking, but the reasoning behind it was sound. When a pandemic is raging, do what you can not to spread it. That caution did not seem to concern Republicans.

So what happened? I have been seeing a few post-mortem analyses posted. Most seem to focus on some party structure problems and do fault the door-knocking decision as costly. Most seem to ask the question “Why do democrats have such problems in rural areas?” Our policies have always been better for small communities and rural areas. Yet for some reason we don’t seem to connect. While no one has said this, the gap seems to get wider every year.

While I am just an average worker bee in the party like most of you, I would like to offer a reason that I never hear discussed anywhere. That reason is rural media. To be more specific, local radio.

As has been written multiple times here on, Iowa’s media is very right wing. Even in the day of access to world media through cell phones and car radios. In the small towns and rural areas of Iowa local media, especially the local radio station is still king. Working in the field or driving to town it is nice to have that companionship of the local station to listen to. As people shop in the local grocery or hardware store, the local radio is the background music to the activities in town.   

Nowadays on a lot of the local radio stations the voice of the local announcer has been replaced by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and many lesser lights, but the message they deliver is a consistent extreme right wing message. For many folks the radio sort of becomes a subliminal message deliverer. While people may not be actively listening they are getting the message. And they stay tuned because the local station has local news, weather, sports, commercials and of course commodity prices which keeps them tuned in.

This acts as an underlayment for the Republican message of whatever election or issue of the day is being pushed. Democrats or the left have no such infrastructure in the rural areas. Actually in Iowa they simply have no infrastructure like this anywhere. When a Republican shows up at a rural door, they are preceded by months and years of their talking points having been disseminated before they got there. When they are at the door, the terms they talk in have been woven into the fabric of conversations long before they showed up.

When a Democrat shows up at the same door, they are having to use the framing on issues that the Republicans developed and that were disseminated by the local radio. Even the attitudes and beliefs about Democrats have been shaped by local radio long before a Democrat comes to the door.

So it seems to me that when Democrats compete in rural areas they are not only competing against a single opponent for whatever office they are running for, they are also competing against decades of attitudes and beliefs about Democratic ideas that have been formed and inculcated through decades of incessant propaganda.

It feels like by the time the election comes around the game is already in the fourth quarter and we re two touchdown behind. Our records and achievements and honesty doesn’t really compete against constant propaganda delivered on the local radio.

All of Iowa’s major radio stations (eg, WHO, WOC, WMT, KXEL etc. etc.) are right wing stations as are many of the low power stations in the small towns.

When the local radio sets the table for what the conversations will be, we really need to have some presence setting that table. Even after 100 years, radio is still a very personal medium. A local radio with some local personalities is like a close friend out in rural areas. Not having a presence in a medium that is so personal to voters is in my opinion a major omission.

Large sums of money spent in huge batches in a short time don’t overcome years of what is essentially brainwashing. In my humble opinion the billionaires who really want to help level the playing field would do well to study the right’s media set up, especially their radio propaganda, and emulate or better it in a long term commitment.

Mine is just an opinion formed over many years of observation and many years of changing radio stations. Oh, and by the way, NPR is not in any way left wing radio. Long ago it was cowed into submission by Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
This entry was posted in 2020 election campaign, media, Media Bias, Radio, Republican Policy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Iowa Democratic Election Post-Mortem

  1. Steve Hanken says:

    I would question the lead of the party as being “great candidates” considering how they have abandoned the one thing the Progressives pointed out was without a doubt the most important issue with Democratic voters “health care for all”. When nearly 80% are in favor of a healthcare system that would do them justice in a pandemic rather than break them economically for the rest of their lives, we go back to a half-assed Obama Care Plan that only worked for a few at the cost of everyone else. Walking away from the “Green New Deal” created by the Progressives and taking on a much reduced plan that will take 50 years at least to come to fruition, is suicide for the planet. So, why doesn’t the party of the people stand up for the very people who vote for them? Simply put, money, or the campaign cash that keeps the party alive at the top and dead at the bottom. Those at the top don’t trust us with their “bread and butter”,and as a result, it doesn’t matter the Party loses elections so long as the system which feeds those at the top is maintained. They created “Super Delegates” simply to keep the Democratic voters from acting out on the things they wanted for themselves, to insure a good place in the food chain for themselves.
    Concentration of most of the effort at the top of the ticket certainly doesn’t help built support for the party at its roots. State offices are important to keep the gerrymandering of voting districts at bay, which effect all elections both at the top and the bottom of the party. A simple look at what passes for party organization at the county level is abysmal, to say the least. Rural counties are predominately Republican and conservative, some have been for years, but that doesn’t mean in roads can’t be made. David Osterberg proved it was possible in the 1970’s when he ran in a predominately Republican district that contained many more Republican voters than Mt. Vernon’s Democrats where he lived. Attacked for living in a refurbished chicken house, Dave won handily simply by going out and talking to Republican farmers one on one, he earned their respect and in many cases their votes. He also was re-elected. Dave was an exceptional candidate, smart, articulate, understood the issues and honed his skills at applying conservative thinking to progressive ideology. Most candidates for office in rural areas running on a democratic side could just as well be prime picks for a community suicide mission! They are ill prepared, have little support from the party, especially if there is no party organization at the county level, and as a result, are bound to lose. Candidates need to be groomed to run for office well before the campaigns start. Readying a campaign committee that knows what they need to do when, and getting the organizing started before hand would be a major help. Putting together a tight answer to many of the charges the Republican’s will launch at a new Democratic challenger would also make our candidates look like they are truly a challenger and gain votes simply by showing you are prepared!
    It is either the Democrats go back to their Roosevelt New Deal roots, or be replaced by a Progressive group that is willing to go with what people want. If they don’t the party may find itself on the junk heap like the Whigs of old. The Whig Party abandoned those among its ranks that understood manifest destiny and expanding borders was only going to expand slavery. Rather than go with the rank and file they supported the war with Mexico and in short order the Whigs no longer were the second part of a two party system. It could happen again.


    • Dave Bradley says:

      Very thorough reply, Steve. Yes there are many areas that need attention, not least of which is the tension with the progressives. One thing for sure, the Republican Party is now a dangerous alternative.


  2. A.D. says:

    Since this column is partly about media, I’ll add to it. I don’t know how many Iowans watch Christian television. I only get broadcast TV, so when I found out TCT was going to start showing in Iowa, I decided to do a little watching to find out what the programming was like. I soon realized that some of it amounted to fairly-obvious encouragement to vote Republican. I don’t know if that same message is being delivered in conservative churches, but it seems possible. Long ago I used to work with a non-profit that was very careful to never even hint at partisan political speech, less the IRS remove their non-profit status. I have the impression that some religious organizations today feel much freer to openly point their members toward the Republican Party.


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