At least seven people considering run for Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

For many election cycles, either Senator Tom Harkin or the Democratic governor of Iowa would choose the Iowa Democratic Party chair, and the State Central Committee would rubber-stamp that decision. But in January 2015, the state party had its first competitive leadership election since I’ve been following Iowa politics. Andy McGuire edged out Kurt Meyer on the third ballot, largely because of strong support from establishment figures.

Iowa Democrats were trounced up and down the ballot on Tuesday. In my lifetime, we’ve never been beaten so badly in a presidential year. When President Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale by nearly 100,000 votes here in 1984, Democrats held on to their majorities in both legislative chambers, and Harkin beat incumbent U.S. Senator Roger Jepsen. This week, the party lost six Senate seats, mostly by large margins, and lost ground in the state House.

State Central Committee members will choose a new party leader in December January. At least seven people are either running or seriously thinking about seeking the position. UPDATE: Added a few more names below.

Kim Weaver, who ran against Representative Steve King in the fourth Congressional district this year, declared her next campaign on Facebook this morning:

This has been an amazing experience and while it didn’t turn out how we hoped it would, good will come from this. I am more committed than ever to building up not only the 4th District, but all of Iowa.

I have decided that I will run for the Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. I deeply believe in our values and our people. Going forward I want to direct my energy towards building our bench, healing our party, and getting our message out there.
I believe that we can find the positive lessons and move forward as a stronger, more unified Party.

We have an opportunity here. We can choose to give up or we can decide to buckle down and work even harder to support the values we hold dear.

Thank you to all of you who supported me. Working full time and running a Congressional campaign wasn’t easy, but it was always worth it.

As always, I remain committed to focusing on solutions.

In her day job, Weaver covers fifteen counties for the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, checking conditions in long-term care facilities. She’s a member of AFSCME, Iowa’s largest labor union and an important ally for Democratic candidates statewide and in legislative districts.

Some Democrats have encouraged Kurt Meyer to run for party chair again. When seeking the position in early 2015, the founder of the Tri-County Democrats organization in Mitchell, Howard, and Worth counties set out the following priorities:

*First, we must expand the Democratic vote in all 99 counties, which means we must reach out to, and be vital and visible in, all regions of the state.

*Second, we must identify, enlist, and support new Party leaders. Recruiting talent is always at the heart of party-building. We won’t “build our bench” until we first build relationships, always thinking several cycles out.

*Third, we must implement approaches to expand as well as persuade our voter and volunteer pools. This means dialogue… sharing our stories while hearing the stories of others. Polling helps but conversation is even better.

*Fourth, we must collaborate… the state party with district and county parties and with like-minded partners, old and new. We must work more effectively with candidates and campaigns at every level. We must cooperate in fundraising and leadership recruitment. We have no choice because, for good or ill, the voters do.

I want to build a Party that is accessible and accountable, innovative and inviting, savvy and strategic. I want a Party as vital from the bottom-up as from the top-down; one as responsive to out-state concerns as to issues in our capitol; one victorious in all cycles because it’s built – and is always building – for the future.

Meyer spoke to Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson on November 9.

“When you have a day like yesterday, then you do have the opportunity to say: ‘Well, let’s clear the decks. Let’s start afresh,’” Meyer told Radio Iowa today. “‘Let’s really take a different approach.’” […]

The Iowa Democratic Party needs a “serious evaluation” of it’s message, not just [its] organizational effort, according to Meyer.

“The great thing about devastating loss that we suffered yesterday is we have the chance to sort of clear the decks and take a long and fresh look, because we have to get back in the game pretty quickly,” Meyer said.

When I reached out to Meyer today, he said he hopes to decide soon whether to run. He expressed concern that the State Central Committee “has not done its homework on the impending transition,” neglecting to lay out a “statement of priorities or expectations of the role or criteria for consideration.” He also criticized the IDP’s “one-cycle-at-a-time orientation,” which works against “long-term thinking, planning and investments. We tend to lurch from activity to crisis to climax and, too often lately, to defeat… without appropriate attention directed toward steadfast on-site grassroots field organizing/assistance (often described as party building). This takes seed-planting work without necessarily expecting immediate results.”

I couldn’t agree more. To cite just one example, the party hired a Latino outreach coordinator in August 2016. That should have been a full-time position years ago. Thousands of potential Latino voters live in counties where the party does little or no organizing work.

Sandy Dockendorff chairs the Des Moines County Democrats in southeast Iowa and represents the second Congressional district on the State Central Committee. In addition, she has served as Rules Committee chair for the state party the last several election cycles and is on the Caucus Review Committee named earlier this year to consider reforms to the Iowa caucus process.

This morning, Dockendorff told me, “after several conversations with some people across the state I have decided to run for the position of IDP Chair.”

UPDATE: Dockendorff laid out some priorities in a November 13 Facebook post:

There are many reasons why I think I should be elected to that role. None of them have anything to do with who I supported in any previous election.

I strongly believe that the focus of the next IDP Chair has to be strengthening our coalitions and growing the Party. We don’t do that by excluding half of the Democrats from the outset… no matter WHICH half. Unity may not be possible so long as we continue to define ourselves as we existed on February 1, 2016… or November 8, 2016.

But we CAN forge new reasons for people to work together … or, perhaps, old reasons: stopping the rush to privatized prisons that incarcerate more people to increase profits… more often than not those people of color… stopping the schools from being vouchered and gutted. … stripping labor unions of their rights to organize … protecting and improving water quality… moving toward more sustainable energy sources… turning back the clock on climate change… stopping TPP… and many more issues.

As we work to define the soul of our Party, we also have to make sure that we continue to stand up for those the Trump and Branstad minions have targeted… and those who misguidedly thought that voting for them would somehow improve their daily lives… perhaps because they felt we had abandoned them?

We have an opportunity to rise from the ashes of 2016 stronger. We have an opportunity to take a look at how we do things… to question some things that have been taken for granted as “business as usual”. There are a lot of ideas out there … I want to hear them… I want to be able to help.

This is part of my pledge to be more deliberate about making our Party more transparent and more accountable to you.

Blair Lawton most recently worked as field director for Jim Mowrer’s campaign in the third Congressional district. He previously worked for several candidates and progressive organizations, then as state political director for MoveOn.org’s “Run Warren Run” effort in Iowa in early 2015. Lawton was state political director for Bernie Sanders from the summer of 2015 through this year’s state Democratic convention. Regarding a bid to become IDP chair, he told me today, “I am seriously considering it.”

Derek Eadon is the founder of the Des Moines-based political consulting firm Bluprint Strategies.

Derek founded Bluprint Strategies in 2013. Derek specializes in campaign and public affairs management. Derek also serves as a principal for the Washington DC based Smoot Tewes Group. Derek’s current and past clients have included national and statewide campaigns, Fortune 75 companies, national issue advocacy organizations, festivals, large events, and local campaigns. Derek began his career as field staff for Democratic campaigns in Iowa and after working for President Obama’s Iowa political organization since 2007, He served as the General Election Director for the 2012 Iowa Obama Campaign.

Eadon told me today he is “strongly considering” running for state party chair.

Julie Stauch has worked for many Democratic candidates, including Michael Dukakis before the 1988 Iowa caucuses, Bonnie Campbell when she ran for governor in 1994, and the Clinton-Gore re-election effort in 1996. She managed Representative Leonard Boswell’s campaign in 2002 and ran campaigns for Congressional candidates in Pennsylvania and Hawaii during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles. Her bio describes “more than 20 years of leadership and management experience” in the “design and strategic development of innovative programs, campaigns and events,” as well as a

mature approach to managing the team, building and maintaining strong working relationships with candidates and key leaders. Her experience with communications, research and field allows her to be a strong strategic partner with the consulting team. She knows how to ensure quality work product out of those who are working on behalf of the campaign or event, understanding the critical importance of fundraising and its role in a competitive campaign.

Stauch is “in the process of considering a run for chair,” she told me today.

A few months ago, Pat Rynard tipped John McCormally as the “early front-runner” to succeed McGuire:

A win would mean a return to his old office – McCormally served as the party’s communications director in 2004, after starting out as a field organizer in 2002. He then went to work as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office for eight years, has served on the state central committee since 2010 and briefly looked at running for State House in the Beaverdale-based Des Moines district.

McCormally would likely be a strong fundraiser for the party, along with bringing his experience as a former campaign staffer to the job to better oversee the party’s election efforts. At the moment he can’t actively campaign for the position as he’s working for the party with its voter protection efforts. But he has plenty of connections on the central committee to put himself in a strong position immediately after Election Day. He was a Clinton supporter in the caucus, but made a point to reach out to Sanders delegates during the conventions.

McCormally also serves on the Caucus Review Committee. He indicated today that he is leaning against running for party chair.

Any comments about the leadership race or suggestions on how to improve the Iowa Democratic Party’s organization are welcome in this thread. Sue Dvorsky, who led the party from 2010 through the 2012 election cycle, is not planning to seek the position again. Former IDP executive director Norm Sterzenbach backed Mowrer for state party chair in early 2015. He told me today he has not yet picked a contender for the next two years but considers these qualities essential for the job:

I think we need someone with an operative mind. Someone who understands modern campaigns. Someone who can take a deep dive into what we have done and chart a course forward. And then lead a broad coalition of people towards the same goal. We need a general.

P.S. Today Rynard urged outgoing chair McGuire not to run for governor in 2018.

McGuire was the captain of the ship when it went down in epic fashion, and many will question whether it had to be this bad. Losing six state senate seats, losing two state house seats, not coming close in the congressionals, the huge swings for the GOP in Eastern Iowa counties – this was worse than the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Mike Gronstal swung the chair election in McGuire’s favor in 2015, largely in an effort to ensure the IDP focused on legislative swing districts – they ended up with some of their worst losses ever.

There was no shortage of behind-the-scenes grumbling over multiple aspects of the Iowa Democratic Party the past two years, from activists and campaigns. Many felt the Iowa Caucus was mishandled. The conventions afterward too. A needless controversy over who spoke at the DNC Convention lost McGuire many allies. And perhaps the party’s biggest failure was its poor outreach to Bernie Sanders supporters after the caucus. The Iowa Caucus is supposed to help build the party – the divisions that remained in the months after weakened it, and still exist in some ways today. Were McGuire to run for governor, the former Sanders crowd would be fervently opposed to her. […]

Democrats saw massive losses in Northeast Iowa and along the Mississippi River, in the working class areas that overwhelmingly chose Trump. Many voters in 2016 saw Hillary Clinton as out-of-touch and part of a corrupt, non-functioning system. McGuire will be painted by Republicans as a rich, big city liberal who was part of the system. How can she possibly win back those counties if that’s still part of the mood in two years?

McGuire would still come into a race with a lot of money. She never got quite the credit she deserved for the good fiscal shape the IDP was in during her tenure. Everyone’s plans for some innovative new program they think the party should do is great, but none of it will get off the ground if the party can’t fund it. And McGuire did travel the state extensively during her time as chair – a longstanding complaint from many county parties is they never see the IDP out in their areas. McGuire put in a lot of long hours and a lot of miles on her car.

UPDATE: Brad Anderson has not responded to my inquiry, but some central Iowa Democrats believe he may be interested in leading the party. Anderson ran Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in Iowa and was the Democratic nominee for secretary of state in 2014.

I have not heard back from Marcia Nichols, political and legislative Director for the public employee union AFSCME.

State Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City told me,

There are good people showing interest, and we need the next round of leaders to step up and give their energy to this cause. We need to bring new people in and show by example.

I don’t know if this role or another is the best place for me to make a difference yet, but I’ll sense that out soon. I’m going to visit with people I trust the next few days, as anyone would. But, the role is within my comfort zone. I know what it takes to win in hard corners of the state, during hard cycles. I’ve worked as an organizer, pushed fundraising efforts for my [Iowa House] caucus, and have strong relationships in the party. I have the time and energy. We need some combination of those elements no matter the role or title and again, good people are showing interest.

SECOND UPDATE: Sean Bagniewski, a longtime activist in Des Moines who was a Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention, is also considering a run for party chair. He would likely face strong resistance from Bernie Sanders supporters on the State Central Committee, because of what happened at this year’s Polk County Democratic convention.

THIRD UPDATE: I should have mentioned that Stauch would also likely face resistance from the Sanders faction, having been a prominent supporter of Clinton’s campaign and Bagniewski’s co-chair for the Polk County delegates.

Both Stauch and Bagniewski appeared in Clinton’s April 2015 campaign announcement video. Stauch talked about her garden and her famous tomatoes, while Bagniewski and his wife Vidhya Reddy talked about their home renovations and their dog.

FOURTH UPDATE: Anderson confirmed in a message that he is considering seeking the party leadership role but hadn’t started thinking about it until November 9. As for what needs to happen going forward, he said:

I think the first, second and third biggest challenges we face as a party are simple: message. What do we stand for? Are we willing to be bold and address the real concerns facing all those who voted for Obamacare and against HRC (especially along the Miss. river towns)? Are we willing to stand up to D.C. committees who take over our campaigns and churn out vanilla messages that excite nobody and mean nothing? Of course there is a huge opportunity with the upcoming midterm, and if history is any guide if we can and should win pretty big, but we have to say something that matters.

NOVEMBER 15 UPDATE: Anderson ruled out seeking the party chair position in a Facebook post. Excerpt:

I appreciate those who have reached out to me to run for chair, and I honestly thought about it following the election, but now is not the time for me to run. We have some great candidates and from across the state I love the fact there are so many people interested! The next chair needs to raise money and find that next campaign tactic that gives us the edge we built after dominating vote-by-mail for the past decade (our 2002 Iowa canvass literally changed Democratic organizing across the nation, what’s next?). Those things are important, but more than anything we need to say something that matters. Message first, everything else comes after. Take boilerplate talking points from DC and delete them or tear them up if you accidentally printed them. Student debt is too high, wages and quality of life are too low and it’s on us to frame a solution. Sen. Jack Kibbie (a Democrat) invented our community college system 50 years ago to dramatically improve access to college – what are we going to invent here in Iowa to address our current student debt crisis? Our state needs more quality advanced manufacturing jobs and fewer fertilizer plants that always “need another $100 million” from taxpayers. We have a wind industry that Democrats built (thanks Vilsack and Culver) and now we need to again think bigger than tax credits for massive data farms with a dozen jobs and start completely dominating a new industry. Smaller class sizes, cleaner water – it’s all on us to be bold. 2018 will be a change election if we make it one, but we have to be clear about the change part. Good luck to our next chair and wave of candidates, I’d love to help out in any way possible.

NOVEMBER 17 UPDATE: Blair Lawton sent out this press release:

Today, Blair Lawton announced that he will be running for chair of the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP). Lawton, a campaign staffer who previously worked on the Obama, Sanders, and Mowrer campaigns, says his top goal as chair is to rebuild the state party after this cycle’s devastating losses at every level.

“I am excited to put my name in the running for state chair,” said Lawton. “This election showed that the IDP needs a renewed focus on building the party from the grassroots up. To me, that means getting serious about organizing in rural areas. It means contesting every legislative race, as well as spending less time courting big donors and more time cultivating donations from grassroots activists.”

“If elected, I plan to make 2017 the year of party-building. That’s the only way to make sure we bounce back in 2018,” continued Lawton.

Lawton has a deep background in organizing, especially in rural areas. He grew up in Inwood, a town of around 800 people in Lyon County. He attended college at Morningside College in Sioux City, and got involved in politics through Organizing for America. In 2012, he became a Regional Field Director for Obama for America and worked primarily in Black Hawk County and six surrounding rural counties, all of which ultimately voted for Obama.

Following President Obama’s re-election, Lawton served as the Minnesota State Coordinator for Organizing For Action and later in Alaska as the GOTV Director for Mark Begich’s re-election bid for U.S. Senate.

After the 2014 midterms, Blair and his wife moved back to Iowa. Blair started out 2015 as the State Director for the Run Warren Run draft campaign. He would later take on the role as Iowa Political Director with Bernie 2016. Most recently, Blair became the IDP CD3 Field Director in support of Jim Mowrer for Congress and the Democratic ticket.

“Blair is not only a successful organizer, but has demonstrated that he understands the importance of reaching out to rural Iowa,” said Colleen Caldwell, the chair of the IDP Rural Caucus. “Democrat’s major 2016 election losses, particularly in rural Iowa, reveal our need for leadership that won’t write-off rural voters as a lost cause. I am confident that Blair is the right person to bridge the gap between the Democratic party and rural Iowa.”

The IDP chair is elected by the State Central Committee (SCC). Although the exact date of the election has not been set, the IDP constitution requires it to take place within 90 days of the general election. The SCC currently has 49 voting members from around the state.

Blair for Chair is a group of Iowa Democrats working to elect Blair Lawton as the chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. Visit www.facebook.com/blair4chair/ for more information.

LATER UPDATE: The State Central Committee will meet to hear presentations by each candidate on December 17 and will convene again in January to select the next leader.

POST-THANKSGIVING UPDATE: Eadon announced his candidacy on November 27. I didn’t know he worked for Art Small, the 2004 Democratic challenger to Senator Chuck Grassley.

After months of conversations with activists and Democratic leaders across Iowa, Derek Eadon has announced he will run for Iowa Democratic Party Chair.

“The Iowa Democratic Party is at a turning point, and now is the time to grow our party and embrace a strong culture of organizing. We must adapt to a changing electoral environment, embrace new leaders and learn from past cycles. The party must develop a new playbook that brings more people into the party and builds a strategy beyond the next electoral cycle. The time for finger pointing and hand wringing has passed, now is the time for action and coordination. I believe I have the right skill set and background for the party at this time. I am excited about the opportunity to organize with Democrats across the state and fight for economic opportunity for all Iowans.”

Eadon laid out three priorities for the party moving forward:
●“We need a clear message focused on economic opportunity and need to hold the GOP accountable in a meaningful way.”
●“The party has an opportunity to emphasize building a statewide organization that brings more new people to the process and provides the training, resources and support for the party to be effective on a local level.”
●“The party can build a strong bench of Democrats running for office at all levels and give them the support and resources they need to run and win and this starts in 2017.”

While he was a student at the University of Iowa, Derek Eadon started his career in politics as a driver for Art Small’s long shot campaign against Chuck Grassley. In 2006, he was a canvasser and organizer for the Iowa Democratic Party in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. He worked for all three of President Obama’s successful Iowa campaigns, including serving as Iowa General Election Director in 2012. Derek also served as State Director for Organizing for America in Iowa and as the 2010 Iowa Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign Director. Derek currently works on some of the most important causes in the progressive community through his company, Bluprint Strategies. The company focuses on issue campaign management and digital outreach. Some of the issues he has worked on include: climate change, clean energy, gun control, child poverty, early childhood education, paid leave, pay equity, organized labor, campaign finance reform, fair courts, anti-fraud, and anti-smoking efforts.

Eadon plans to travel the state over the next few weeks to hear more from activists and central committee members. The election for Iowa Democratic Party Chair will be held in January and State Central Committee voting members will participate in the election. The campaign’s Facebook page can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/DerekForIDP/

NOVEMBER 30 UPDATE: Julie Stauch announced her candidacy on Facebook:

Dear Friends & Fellow Democrats,
Count me in!
The Iowa Democratic Party is facing a transformative moment, with some of the greatest challenges we’ve ever seen. Our base voters feel disconnected, our county parties need us to be reenergized, and we have a slew of leadership positions that are unfilled at every level. We have people who want to give of their talent and expertise, yet no mechanism for capturing, engaging and developing this pool of talent.
At this critical juncture we need leadership with a passion and commitment to our democratic values and the ability to inspire all Democrats to bring their best to the challenges we face together.
Since the election I have spoken with 33 different Iowa Democratic activists about the problems and opportunities facing the party, with the goal of grounding myself in the realities of what the new chair will face. Thanks to the people who took the time to speak with me and share their insights, I have a firm grasp of the scope and complexity of the challenges.
Thirty-three conversations later, I am optimistic we can transform the party of today into the vibrant, inviting, and empowered political organization we all want it to be. I want to put my leadership experience, passion and commitment to our party to work leading us through this transformation. For that reason, I am running for to be the next chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.
Julie

Short Biography
Like many of you, I started in politics as an activist, where I became highly involved in the Cerro Gordo County Democrats. That activism led to twenty years working in local, state and national politics, including executing every staff role on campaigns ranging from city council to state senate to congressional to presidential, in eight different states. I wrote Running Start, an executive coaching program for candidates for congress, to help them get up to speed quickly in their role as a candidate. Additional work includes non-profit leadership in public affairs, which included governmental affairs, legal, marketing and communications. Currently I provide leadership consulting services to a variety of organizations where the work includes a mix of thematic analysis research, organizational development, event planning, communications and fundraising. I credit my success to what I learned while earning my degree in education and a firm understanding of how people learn, and how to help them grow and realize their potential.

Disclosure: I was one of the 33 activists Stauch interviewed in recent weeks.

Also on November 30, Des Moines school board member Natasha Newcomb posted on Twitter that she heard State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad “declare his intentions” to run for one of the vice chair positions on the party’s State Central Committee. Abdul-Samad has represented one of the Iowa House districts in central Des Moines since 2007.

Also on November 30, Kurt Meyer confirmed he will run for party chair again.

I hope to publish guest commentaries from all of the candidates before the State Central Committee meeting.

Final November 30 update: someone created a Facebook page called “We need Mike” seeking to draft outgoing Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal for the position. If Gronstal runs, he would become the instant front-runner with Clinton supporters on the State Central Committee but would run into resistance from those who backed Sanders for president.

DECEMBER UPDATE: Gronstal sent an e-mail to State Central Committee members on December 1 confirming that he will run.

  • That Sandy?

    Do you happen to know or can you find out if the Sandy in this post is the same Sandy who ran a great deal of the voting at State Convention?

  • One-Sided?

    I think it odd that the analysis of candidates only shows concern that Sanders supporters would object to people identified with the Clinton campaign. If those rifts are in fact not yet healed, isn’t it at least possible that Clinton supporters would also object to someone closely identified with the Sanders campaign? I like several of those candidates, but take Julie Stauch as an example — she’s known and worked with several of the pro-Sanders folks in other capacities over the years; I’m not sure she gets rejected just because of her Clinton connection. I would hope that being for Clinton or Sanders would not be disqualifying with the supporters of the other, or it won’t matter much who the eventual chair is. And there aren’t many qualified candidates who are associated with neither. (Maybe that lonely O’Malley delegate…)

    • fair point

      In my real-life conversations with Clinton and Sanders supporters, as well as my observations of many social media discussions in recent months, my impression is that Bernie fans are far more likely to hold a grudge against people who backed Clinton for president than vice versa. Trump winning the electoral college validated for many of these people that the party made the “wrong” choice and those who were for Clinton should not be trusted.

      Maybe that’s not a fair assessment.

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