Three pros and three cons of Andy McGuire as Iowa Democratic Party chair (updated)

Earlier today the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee selected Dr. Andy McGuire to lead the party for the next two years. McGuire was the favorite going into the election and won on the third ballot against Kurt Meyer. Another candidate for state chair, former Congressional candidate Jim Mowrer, then ran for first vice chair and was elected on the first ballot.

Dr. McGuire has been active in Iowa Democratic politics for more than 20 years, since working on her sister-in-law Sheila McGuire’s 1994 Congressional campaign in Iowa’s fifth district. (Sheila McGuire later served as state party chair for a term.) In the political world, Andy McGuire is best-known for being Mike Blouin’s running mate during the 2006 Democratic primary for governor. The pro-choice mother of seven helped balance the ticket, as many Democratic activists were concerned about Blouin’s stance on abortion rights.

In recent years, McGuire has often been mentioned as a possible Congressional candidate, but she ruled out running in Iowa’s third district in 2016 if elected to lead the party. Many central Iowa Democrats expect her to run for governor in 2018.

Although I favored one of the other candidates, McGuire brings a lot to the table as a state party leader. My first thoughts on the pros and cons of her election are after the jump.  

McGuire’s strengths as Iowa Democratic Party chair

1. Fundraising.

In her pitch to State Central Committee members, McGuire said keeping the Iowa Democratic Party financially strong would be a priority for her. She has close ties to major Democratic donors and has been active in many central Iowa capital campaigns, from Dowling Catholic High School to Planned Parenthood. Money isn’t everything, but it’s increasingly important in politics. McGuire should be able to help raise the resources to run a real voter turnout program in 2016.

2. Iowa’s leading Democratic elected officials are comfortable with her.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack, and Attorney General Tom Miller were among the VIPs who e-mailed State Central Committee members urging them to choose McGuire as party chair. I have long felt that the state party deferred too much to the top elected officials when selecting a party chair, so I was glad to see a spirited competition this year. That said, keeping the Iowa Senate majority and holding the second Congressional district will be important tasks for Iowa Democrats in 2016. Maybe this outcome in the state party chair race will help the coordinated campaign run more smoothly.

3. She is close to Hillary Clinton.

In 2007, McGuire served on Hillary Clinton’s National Council of Civic Leaders as well as the Women’s Leadership Council for Team Hillary in Iowa. After today’s election, McGuire promised to stay neutral in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, but let’s get real. Everyone knows that she is a strong Clinton ally. I would have preferred a state party chair with no known allegiance to a presidential candidate, but there are certainly advantages to having someone close to Hillary in this job. McGuire at the helm increases the chances that Clinton will invest in a strong GOTV during the general election.

I’ve been concerned that Clinton would not spend a lot of money on field in Iowa, because she could easily win 270 electoral votes without Iowa’s six. A well-funded and staffed coordinated campaign will be critically important to holding the Iowa Senate majority in 2016.

McGuire’s weaknesses as Iowa Democratic Party chair

1. She can’t do the job full-time.

McGuire has a high-profile and demanding job as President and chief operating officer at Meridian Health Plan. Although she has promised to take the Democratic message all over the state, and made sure State Central Committee members knew that her youngest child is graduating from high school, McGuire will have less than full time to devote to party-building. Some of the work that needs to be done can’t be done by phone from Des Moines.

2. The message to activists is “business as usual.”

Many Democratic activists outside the Des Moines area were hoping for a different kind of party chair. McGuire is one of many recent party leaders who are based in Polk County and have strong ties to major donors. Let’s hope that will not hinder work that needs to be done at the local level. McGuire promised today to focus on improving the party’s outreach in rural areas. Unfortunately, some of the county Democratic organizations in urban areas are dysfunctional as well. State party leaders need to make progress on this front before the 2016 election.

3. She is close to Hillary Clinton.

No one will be fooled by today’s neutrality pledge. The perception will be that the Iowa Democratic Party leadership favors Hillary Clinton for president. There’s a risk that will discourage other potential candidates from competing in Iowa. On the plus side, there aren’t many options for long-shot candidates other than competing in Iowa and New Hampshire. I believe McGuire will not attempt to manipulate the party machinery to benefit Clinton.

UPDATE: From Kathie Obradovich’s post on today’s meeting:

“There are big swaths of the state right now who do not feel they are either listened to or heard,” [Kurt] Meyer, chairman of the Tri-County Democrats, said.

McGuire’s supporters pushed back at the perception that a Des Moines-based chair would not commit to a 99-county strategy of party building.

McGuire said she thinks there is a “valid concern” that the party is not doing enough in rural Iowa. She said what’s important is not where she lives, but that “we recognize the problem and build that grassroots organization.”

Many Iowa House and Senate seats will be in play in 2016. Democrats won’t hold their Senate majority or make progress in the House without a strong organization in many smaller counties.

Conservative University of Iowa Professor Tim Hagle tweeted at me,

Surprised you mention “holding” #ia02 as a goal. Would seem to take something pretty monumental to put it seriously in play.

Point taken. I doubt Loebsack is in any real danger in the second district, having survived the 2014 landslide. Still, strong turnout in the IA-02 counties will always be important for Democratic performance statewide and in some of the competitive state legislative districts.

SECOND UPDATE: Here’s the Iowa Democratic Party’s official announcement.

Iowa Democratic Party Today Elects Executive Committee for the 2015-2016 Term

Dr. Andy McGuire will serve as Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party

Des Moines – The State Central Committee of the Iowa Democratic Party today elected Dr. Andy McGuire to serve as Chair for the 2015-2016 term.  Jim Mowrer will serve as first Vice Chair, Jean Pardee will serve as the second Vice Chair, and Omar Padilla will serve as third Vice Chair.  Ken Sagar will continue to serve as state party Treasurer, and Don Ruby as Secretary.

Dr. Andy McGuire is the President and Chief Operating Office of a health care company that focuses on improving access to quality health care for Iowans.  She has both an M.D. and an MBA, and was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2006.  Dr. McGuire is a wife and a mother of seven wonderful children, and serves on the board of a number of charities and non-profits across Iowa.  She is originally from Waterloo, but currently resides in Des Moines.

“When it comes to moving our party forward, building our infrastructure and strengthening our foundation, I am ready to take on the job to make the Iowa Democratic Party the best state party in the nation,” said Dr. McGuire.  “I look forward to working with Iowans in all 99 counties about our key issues of education, equality, and growing the economy for everyone.

“The next two years are going to be incredibly important for our party, both for our upcoming presidential caucus and to take back Democratic seats up and down the ballot in 2016. It’s not going to be easy, but I know that when we work together and stay true to our Democratic values, we will win.”

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