IA-Gov: Andy McGuire has her work cut out for her

I’ve never seen a bigger disconnect between Iowa Democratic Party donors and activists than in their attitude toward Dr. Andy McGuire as a candidate for governor.

I’ve never seen a bigger disconnect between Iowa pundits and activists than in their assessment of McGuire’s chances to become the Democratic nominee.

Since McGuire rolled out her campaign three weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about how she might persuade enough rank-and-file Democrats to support her in a crowded gubernatorial field. I’m stumped.

MCGUIRE’S MESSAGE TO DEMOCRATIC VOTERS

McGuire launched her campaign on April 10 with this video, narrated by the candidate:

At the end of this post, I’ve enclosed a news release and e-mail blast reinforcing themes from the video. Some excerpts:

“We need a Governor who will put working families first and give everyone the opportunity to succeed,” said Andy McGuire. “It’s time to stop pitting community against community and Iowan against Iowan. I’ll focus on real priorities that move Iowa forward – investing in our public schools instead of cutting them to the bone. Supporting small businesses as part of a larger effort to revitalize our rural economies. Raising wages – with equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage statewide to attract a quality workforce. We must also ensure access to quality, comprehensive affordable health care for all Iowans.” […]

“For too long, those in power seem to only get things done for the special interests – behind closed doors. It’s a broken political system that works for them – not us. And it’s leaving hard-working Iowans behind. It’s time we stop pitting people against each other, and finally get things done for Iowa families – to fix it, together.”

McGuire was born in Waterloo, Iowa – the daughter of a World War II veteran and a hard-working mother in a family of eight. McGuire is the mother of seven children, and raised a family while training to be a doctor. As a medical director, she focused on preventive care, including vaccinations and prenatal checks.

Like most new candidates’ websites, McGuire for Governor doesn’t have a lot of content yet. So far, the campaign’s Facebook page has linked to the announcement video and to a couple of commentaries criticizing the Iowa legislature’s actions during the 2017 session. The @Mcguireforgov Twitter feed has similar content.

The Democratic primary for governor won’t be a referendum on public policy; the six or more candidates will all agree on the issues McGuire highlighted in her video. Voters will decide who is best positioned to represent Democrats in the general election and carry the message about a “broken political system” serving “special interests” instead of “hard-working Iowans.” On that territory, McGuire faces unique challenges.

UNRELENTING HOSTILITY FROM “BERNERS”

None of the current candidates for governor is well-known among the general public. The February poll by Selzer & Co for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom indicated that nearly 70 percent of Iowa voters don’t know enough about McGuire to have an opinion. Of those who were familiar with McGuire, 20 percent reported a favorable view, 11 percent unfavorable.

As state party leader in 2015 and 2016, McGuire has much higher name recognition among Democratic activists than among Iowa voters generally. While name ID is usually an asset for a candidate, all publicity has not been good publicity for McGuire in Democratic circles.

That’s especially true among those who were energized by the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The day McGuire won the Iowa Democratic Party’s leadership contest, I was concerned activists would see her selection as a sign the party was lining up behind Hillary Clinton. McGuire had served on Clinton’s National Council of Civic Leaders and on the Women’s Leadership Council for Team Hillary in Iowa before the 2008 caucuses.

McGuire pledged to stay neutral before the 2016 Iowa caucuses, and she kept that promise as far as I can tell. As the establishment candidate, Clinton had much more backing from Democratic elected officials and local leaders than Sanders did, but I never saw any sign of the state party using its machinery to promote the front-runner.

Nevertheless, many dedicated Sanders supporters believe otherwise.

This picture originated in a July 2013 tweet by reporter Ben Jacobs: “New license plate of Andy McGuire, former Dem candidate for Lt Gov of Iowa and 2008 Hillary co-chair in Iowa.”

I lost count of how many times I’ve seen “Berners” post that photo in Facebook threads to communicate their contempt for McGuire and their belief that the Iowa Democratic Party establishment cheated Sanders in some way.

McGuire changed her car’s license plate to a neutral message (IADems) the same month she became state party leader. Still, photos of the old plate circulate as “proof” she didn’t treat Sanders fairly.

After the Iowa caucuses, McGuire missed opportunities to heal wounds. First, she unwisely ruled out a comprehensive review of the caucus results, despite the narrowest margin of victory in history. That deepened suspicions on the Sanders wing that the fix was in.

A few weeks later, McGuire sent Democratic Party supporters a tone-deaf letter depicting the caucuses as a resounding success. Upbeat spin (echoed in other official communications) didn’t reflect the reality thousands of Democrats had experienced on caucus night: over-crowded rooms with poorly-trained caucus chairs, and delegate counts that sometimes distorted the sentiment in the room.

Last February, McGuire announced that the party would consider ways to improve the caucuses. But the by-invitation-only Caucus Review Committee included many more backers of Clinton than Sanders and excluded some proponents of fundamental changes to the caucus process.

Divisions between Sanders and Clinton delegates boiled over at some county and district conventions last spring, most famously in Polk County. Throughout the convention process, state party leaders remained formally neutral–but some Sanders delegates would tell you a different story. For instance, some have alleged miscommunications about the lunch break tricked Sanders delegates into missing important business at the state convention.

The Democratic National Convention is another strike against McGuire for the Sanders crowd. Whereas many states included supporters of both presidential candidates during the nationally televised roll call, McGuire was the first of four Clinton delegates to announce our state’s tally. Some of Iowa’s Sanders delegates left the convention hall and din’t come back. I interviewed a few delegates at the time, and as Jason Frerichs chronicled here, some of them are still angry about what they perceived as bullying and censorship by party leaders including McGuire.

Some activists blame McGuire for the November election results–a blowout of unexpected proportions in a presidential year. Objectively, the Iowa party chair didn’t create the political atmosphere that helped Donald Trump and down-ballot Republicans make big gains across the upper Midwest and rust belt. Then again, as Pat Rynard wrote last November,

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.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich a few weeks ago, McGuire said that as she travels the state, she doesn’t hear many people talking about last year’s disappointments. I see the subject come up daily in social media threads pointing the finger at establishment Democrats. A rule of thumb for the internet is that for every commenter, at least ten “lurkers” are reading the exchange without posting.

To be sure, lots of Democratic voters aren’t active on social media, and Facebook or Twitter can distort reality–as when the platforms created the illusion of widespread support for Tom Fiegen’s 2016 U.S. Senate bid. On the other hand, thousands of Democrats from all parts of Iowa–grassroots and “grass-tops”–have become highly engaged on Facebook since Republicans gained total control of state government. The Action Iowa group has more than 8,000 members statewide and many local chapters. Indivisible Iowa has nearly 9,000 members statewide and groups functioning in all 50 Iowa Senate districts. Those and other rapidly-growing Facebook groups like Iowans for Public Education (more than 11,000 members) helped to generate big turnout for weekend legislative forums earlier this year.

A few days before McGuire announced her candidacy, a Sanders fan posted this question in various Facebook groups: “I’m asking for a friend: How does everyone feel about Dr. Andy McGuire for Governor?” I was struck by the outpouring of negative comments, depicting McGuire as a symbol of big money or failed leadership. The outdated HRC2016 license plate photo made multiple appearances.

The only other Iowa Democrat I can think of who entered a primary race facing this level of hostility from the party faithful was Ed Fallon. As a candidate for governor in 2006 and for Congress in 2008, he dealt with residual anger for having publicly backed Ralph Nader in 2000. Many Democrats who agreed with Fallon on policy issues would not even consider voting for him in a primary.

The best-known endorsers named on McGuire’s first campaign press release were Clinton backers, including former member of Congress Leonard Boswell, former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell, former U.S. Attorney Roxanne Conlin, and former Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. The list did include one prominent Sanders supporter: Gary Kroeger, a candidate for Congress and later for Iowa House district 60 in 2016. When I asked why he picked McGuire over other gubernatorial candidates, he explained,

“I made it clear when I ran in the Democratic primary for Congress, and then for the Iowa House, that I aligned with Bernie Sanders. While the more centrist approach of Dr. Andy McGuire may appear as a contradiction to my progressive activism, I see that as an advantage. I don’t believe that our party grows with one, like-minded view, but with an amalgam of many, and that is why I am lending my support. Dr. McGuire and I share a passion for our state and mutual concern for working families, access to health care, farmers, mental health inadequacies, and underfunding of public schools. Finding solutions will require divergent ideas working toward common goals.”

I haven’t seen Kroeger “in the trenches” yet making the case for McGuire on social media. Based on the conversations I’ve witnessed in Democratic circles over the past year, getting progressives on board will be a hard sell.

NO CLEAR BASE

Intense opposition from one wing of the party isn’t an insurmountable problem in a primary, if you have a strong base somewhere else. The challenge for McGuire is finding a large group of voters to compensate for the ones who will rule her out immediately.

Conventional wisdom says she is the front-runner, by virtue of being the only woman facing a half-dozen or more men. Rynard speculated last month,

Given the dynamics of the emerging field, Iowa Democrats seem to be hurtling toward a McGuire nomination. Not from a groundswell of grassroots support for the former IDP chair, but because it’s looking increasingly likely that she could be the only female candidate in a six or seven-person field.

If her opposition turns out to be Todd Prichard, Nate Boulton, Jonathan Neiderbach, Rich Leopold and Mike Matson, she could potentially claim victory with something like 37% of the vote, consolidating enough support from female voters. If her team is smart, she’ll file for the ballot as Andrea McGuire.

Republican strategist David Kochel–who has been doing communications work for Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds–put it even more strongly on the WHO-TV program “The Insiders” this Sunday:

I don’t know how you beat Andy McGuire in a primary. Maybe it could happen […] But I think having a woman in a field of maybe five or six or seven men is gonna be very difficult to, you know–Democrats have just always, you know, nominated the woman candidate in a field of several men and one woman. I just think that identity politics runs so deep in the Democratic Party, they’ll have a hard time not doing that.

Although Iowa Democrats have nominated quite a few women in multi-candidate primaries, none of those situations were comparable to the current governor’s race. Conlin had been the state’s first female U.S. attorney when she beat two men for the gubernatorial nomination in 1982 and had a much higher statewide profile than did her opponents in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary. Campbell was the state’s attorney general when she defeated two lesser-known opponents in the 1994 gubernatorial primary. Former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge took a big name ID advantage into last year’s Senate primary.

More to the point: none of those women entered the primary with anything like McGuire’s baggage among party activists.

What about Clinton’s many loyal fans? I’ve been touching base with rank-and-file Democratic women who were “with her” for the 2016 caucuses and volunteered as a phone-banker or canvasser during the general election campaign. I don’t know of any who are leaning toward McGuire for governor. In the various Facebook groups where “Hillary or Bernie” flamewars are still a regular occurrence, I’m not seeing the vocal Clinton advocates making a case for McGuire on threads about the governor’s race. My anecdotal impressions are not scientific, of course, but I feel confident in saying Hillary’s army is not fired up and ready to be deployed for McGuire.

The high-profile Iowa Democrats who endorsed Clinton before the 2016 caucuses are not landing in any one camp for the governor’s race. Former state party chair Sue Dvorsky and former secretary of state nominee Brad Anderson are on State Representative Todd Prichard’s leadership team. Danny Homan, president of the public employees union AFSCME here, served as Iowa Democratic Party first vice chair under McGuire and was a superdelegate for Clinton last year. But he and McGuire didn’t work well together and were not on good terms as their tenures ended in January. Homan is expected to endorse State Senator Nate Boulton when he makes his campaign for governor official. CORRECTION: Homan comments, “AFSCME has a process for endorsing candidates and AFSCME has not even considered any endorsement,” adding that any speculation about his support is in the governor’s race “extremely premature and misleading.” I should not have made that assumption based on rumors and Boulton’s experience representing AFSCME in several lawsuits that went to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Polk County contains about one-sixth of Iowa’s registered Democrats, so could be a promising base for a gubernatorial candidate. But Des Moines area activists aren’t uniting behind any one candidate and won’t automatically drift toward someone with local roots; Prichard has drawn some early support here. Anyway, several Polk County residents are either running for governor already (Jon Neiderbach and Rich Leopold) or likely to declare soon (John Norris, Boulton, and Fred Hubbell).

Hubbell poses a particular threat to McGuire, because he could lock up quite a few major Democratic donors in central Iowa. Fielding a statewide campaign takes money, and McGuire has much more fundraising experience than do most of the potential gubernatorial candidates.

Although McGuire is a Waterloo native, she will be widely viewed as a candidate from Des Moines, where she built her career and raised her family. Among Democrats in smaller cities or rural areas, many share Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman’s opinion: “Distance from Des Moines actually might be the best formula to avoid losing the state’s top job for the third-straight election.”

Let’s assume five or six Democrats end up running for governor (not everyone testing the waters will follow through). It’s possible, even probable, that no one will win the nomination outright with more than 35 percent of the June 2018 primary votes. In that case, delegates to a statewide convention would choose a Democratic candidate for governor. I can’t see any path for McGuire in that scenario.

Speaking to the Register’s Obradovich, McGuire promised,

“I will work harder than anyone else. As a mother of seven, I know how to work hard and I’ve had great experiences and I think those experiences as a doctor and as a business person and then listening to Iowans all over Iowa, I think that’s the winning combination and that’s what we need in the governor’s office,” McGuire said in an interview. […]

McGuire says she can overcome negative attitudes as people get to know her, but the focus needs to be on electing a Democratic governor.

I have no doubts about McGuire’s work ethic. I first met her in 2003, when we both served on a fundraising committee for what was then called Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa (now Planned Parenthood of the Heartland). As a new mother trying to juggle parenting one child with freelance writing about Russian politics and various volunteer interests, I was inspired by this working doctor and mother of seven, who somehow found time to stay involved with causes that mattered to her. She is committed to reproductive rights and other values shared by progressives.

Few Iowa Democrats would disagree with any substantive part of McGuire’s message. I just don’t see her as the standard-bearer voters will be looking for after the 2016 debacle.

Politics can be a tough business.

April 10 press release from McGuire for governor:

McGuire: “For too long, those in power seem to only get things done for the special interests. It’s time we fixed it – so it works for hard-working Iowans.”

[Click here to watch Andy McGuire’s Announcement Video]

Des Moines, IA – Andy McGuire announced today that she is running for Governor of Iowa. She announced her candidacy with an online video highlighting her vision to put state government back on the side of Iowans.

“We need a Governor who will put working families first and give everyone the opportunity to succeed,” said Andy McGuire. “It’s time to stop pitting community against community and Iowan against Iowan. I’ll focus on real priorities that move Iowa forward – investing in our public schools instead of cutting them to the bone. Supporting small businesses as part of a larger effort to revitalize our rural economies. Raising wages – with equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage statewide to attract a quality workforce. We must also ensure access to quality, comprehensive affordable health care for all Iowans.”

Throughout her career, first as a doctor, then as a medical director and business leader, McGuire has worked to put people first and care for those who need it the most – including the veterans who came home with often life-threatening and life-altering injuries. She believes it’s time to end the backroom deals where only the special interests benefit, and hard-working Iowans get left behind.

“For too long, those in power seem to only get things done for the special interests – behind closed doors. It’s a broken political system that works for them – not us. And it’s leaving hard-working Iowans behind. It’s time we stop pitting people against each other, and finally get things done for Iowa families – to fix it, together.”

McGuire was born in Waterloo, Iowa – the daughter of a World War II veteran and a hard-working mother in a family of eight. McGuire is the mother of seven children, and raised a family while training to be a doctor. As a medical director, she focused on preventive care, including vaccinations and prenatal checks.

Andy is proud to have served as the Chair of the Iowa Democratic Party from 2015-16. Announcing their support of McGuire’s campaign today include prominent Democratic leaders from across Iowa:

Leonard Boswell – Former U.S. Representative (IA-3)

Bonnie Campbell – Former Iowa Attorney General

Roxanne Conlin – Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa and first female president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA)

Mike Gronstal – Former Iowa State Senate Majority Leader

Gary Kroeger – Black Hawk County Activist­­

Linda Nelson – Former State Representative and Former President of the Iowa State Education Association

Phyllis Thede – Iowa State Representative (HD 93)

Ryan McDaniel – President, Student Leadership Council for Iowa Safe Schools

Jamie Woods – Chair, The Black Caucus of the Iowa Democratic Party

Jo Ann Zimmerman – Former Lieutenant Governor of Iowa

To stay up-to-date on the campaign, visit www.McGuireForGovernor.com

Follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

April 10 e-mail blast from Andy McGuire:

I am proud to announce that I am officially running for Governor of Iowa.

As a native of Waterloo, I am proud to call Iowa home. But for too long, those in power seem to only get things done for the special interests – behind closed doors. It’s a broken political system that works for them – not us. And it’s leaving hard-working Iowans behind.

It’s time we stop pitting people against each other, and finally get things done for Iowa families – to fix it, together.

Watch my announcement video that highlights my vision to put state government back on the side of Iowans.

We need a Governor who will put working families first and give everyone the opportunity to succeed. It’s time to stop pitting community against community and Iowan against Iowan.

I’ll focus on real priorities that move Iowa forward – investing in our public schools instead of cutting them to the bone. Supporting small businesses as part of a larger effort to revitalize our rural economies. Raising wages – with equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage statewide to attract a quality workforce. We must also ensure access to quality, comprehensive affordable health care for all Iowans.

Throughout my career, first as a doctor, then as a medical director and business leader, I worked to put people first and care for those who need it the most – including the veterans who came home with often life-threatening and life-altering injuries.

It is time to end the backroom deals where only the special interests benefit, and hard-working Iowans get left behind.

Be sure to watch our announcement video, and join our campaign.

  • Deja Vu

    If you think about it, during the last election cycle when Democrat’s elected Patty Judge to run for US Senator against Grassley, similar arguments like name recognition, ability to raise money, etc. were made. Patty Judge had the resume’, but then again so did HRC. I agree that baggage of resentment against McGuire could be significant to sway some minds, especially in Polk County. The feeling of inevitability of a McGuire candidacy will not serve the party well. Charisma will continue to be a quality in short supply, especially with a McGuire candidacy.

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