Iowa’s political swing makes repeating Obama victory difficult

Nevada, Iowa (AP) — In 2008, this overwhelmingly white state was unlikely with Barack Obama becoming the nation’s first black president. Fourteen years later, Iovans is not showing a similar embrace for the woman who is running to be his first black governor.

Democrat Deirdre Dzier is finding Iowa a very changed place, with staunch conservative trends supporting many aspects of Trumpism, with a voter who has so far shown little interest in her history-making candidacy.

Educated young adults who were once reliable Democratic voters have fled rural Iowa in search of opportunities elsewhere. The power of organized labor has waned. Obama’s general election victories in 2008 and 2012 seem like distant memories.

The changes are part of a wider change that has spread across the Northern Plains over the past two decades, making it difficult for Democrats to compete in the region, even as they do in other places such as the Deep South and Sun Belt. also enter.

“The timing is very different from Obama’s 2008 campaign,” said Dave Leshatz, a veteran Democratic organizer from Iowa City, after a dezier event in the liberal enclave. “It’s a completely different state.”

DeJear, a 36-year-old Des Moines businessman, cemented her status as a rising political star in 2018, when she became the first black candidate to win a statewide primary in Iowa. She lost the general election for Secretary of State, but won national attention and invitations from Democratic presidential candidates to serve as an adviser to state.

She’s struggling to translate that low-wattage fame into support for voters. Only 31% of potential Iowa voters said they knew enough about DeJear — running unopposed in the June 7 primary — to form an opinion, according to The Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll, by the end of February and Held in early March.

Meanwhile, she posted an anemic $8,500 fundraising balance in January, raising less than $300,000 since her candidacy was announced in August. This was next to a $4.8 million balance and $3.8 million contribution from Republican incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Story County Democrat Barb Wheelock blamed part of DeZier’s struggle for racism, both within the party and among state voters.

“I think part of it is that she’s black and people don’t think she’ll do very well — people from our state party, people with money,” Wheelock, a 70-year-old retired physical therapist, said while attending last month. A DeJear stop in Story County.

DeJear told the Associated Press that she suspects her race may be on some mind as she seeks supporters.

“Of course no one has said that to me directly,” Dezier said. “But there is a question of whether or not a black woman can win. It is certainly a question.”

Dezier, tied on stage at an event in Nevada, a small farm town in central Iowa, tried to dispel any such doubts. With an upbeat style and traces of his native Mississippi accent, Dezier reminded viewers that the Iowans claimed a significant legacy, including a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court that made Iowa the first state to separate public schools after the Civil War. gave.

“I believe what is possible,” she said. “We have made an honest decision that no matter what the color of your skin, no matter what your race, every one of our students should have access to a quality public education.”

This was a nod to an Iowa progressive streak that lasted well into the 21st century.

In 2009, the Iowa High Court legalized same-sex marriage, following similar rulings in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but five years before the US Supreme Court, becoming the third state to allow it. A year earlier, Iowa voters not only supported Obama by a healthy margin in the general election, they overwhelmingly sent moderate Democrat Tom Harkin to the US Senate for a fifth term.

The Iowans ushered in the new millennium with Tom Vilsack, a Democrat and former mayor of rural southeast Iowa, as governor. And during the 1988 Democratic Presidential Caucus, Rev. Jesse Jackson, relying on the support of rural Iowa, took a remarkable fourth place.

But a sharp decline in union jobs and an exodus of young, college-educated adults has changed Iowa’s dynamic political map.

In a striking example, Obama led the state in November 2008, winning 52 of 99 counties. Joe Biden, who will make his first visit to Iowa as president on Tuesday, lost to the state in 2020, winning only six counties.

After decades of divided state government, Republicans controlled the Legislature and governed for six consecutive years, cutting taxes and reining in voting and abortion rights. Today, five of Iowa’s six members of Congress are Republicans.

State Representative Ras Smith hoped to disrupt the trend by running this year’s race as the gubernatorial candidate. Smith, 34, who was voted the recipient of the Iowa Democratic Party’s “Rising Star” award in 2019 and is black, found it difficult to persuade some of the party’s major donors in the state, who are white, to give her . Look

Despite Smith’s promising profile and DeJear’s 2018 success, some wealthy Iowa Democrats have asked others to run, including state Representative Todd Pritchard, who hails from rural northern Iowa and White.

Smith said that some influential donors declined his invitation to meet to discuss his campaign. Among them, he said, was Fred Hubbell, the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor. A wealthy Des Moines-area businessman, Hubbell spent $7 million of his own money to lose to Reynolds.

“It wasn’t about the dollar,” said Smith, who ended his campaign in January, leaving Dzier unopposed in the primary. “He didn’t come to an event and was turned down. We didn’t have coffee and I said something that pissed him off. That’s the part that felt insulting. It was insulting.”

Smith said he and Hubbell spoke on the phone but never met, despite several invitations. Hubbell did not respond to requests for comment.

“My party doesn’t think it’s nearly racist,” said Tom Courtney, a former state senator and longtime union worker from the once booming construction aisle along the Mississippi River, who is white. “But some of that is going on.”

The sentiment stings for the Iowa Democrats, as national party leaders, frustrated by the state’s lack of diversity, are taking steps to shift the initial presidential nomination contest away from the traditionally first-of-the-nation state.

Hubbell endorsed Dzier in a written statement last month, two months after Smith’s return made him the sole Democrat candidate. Hubbell has since contributed to DeJear’s campaign, though her campaign declined to say how much. Smith has also endorsed DeJear, one of several black Democratic women running for statewide office nationwide this year.

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is seeking governorship again. Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley is running for the US Senate as a Democrat. And Florida Representative Val Demings is the leading Democrat facing Republican US Sen. Marco Rubio.

But DeJear is the only black woman campaigning in such a predominantly white state. In 2020, 90.4 percent of Iovans were white, according to census data. Roughly 62 percent of the country’s population was white, and over 13 percent black.

Still, DeJear, who campaigned for Obama in 2008 as a college student at Drake University in Des Moines, is optimistic that she can rekindle the flame.

“We also look at Obama and what he was able to achieve,” she said in the interview. “I believe that Iovans has this innate ability to see the humanity that exists in other people. And that’s what drives us.”

Leave a Comment