Two years before the 2020 Iowa caucuses, U.S. Representative John Delaney of Maryland is already investing heavily in reaching voters here. Delaney visited Iowa for the first time within weeks of announcing his presidential candidacy last July. This past weekend, he made his sixth swing through the state, attending events in Cedar, Dubuque, Clinton, Clayton, Delaware, Jackson, and Scott counties.
Most Iowans will be introduced to Delaney through his television commercials. His debut ad aired during the Super Bowl in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, and Sioux City markets. The second spot began running on February 5 as “part of a million-dollar, month-long Iowa television buy,” according to a campaign news release. I enclose below videos and transcripts of both commercials.
Hundreds of Democratic activists have already heard Delaney at a meet and greet or local party event where he was a featured speaker. I recorded his speech at the Third Congressional District Hall of Fame dinner last October. The second part of this post contains the sound file and a transcript of key passages.
Finally, I asked Delaney to react to some activists’ concern that a sharper focus on issues white working-class voters care about could make Democratic candidates less committed to other stances, which are critically important to segments of the party’s base.
“JOHN DELANEY SAID A DIRTY WORD IN DAVENPORT”
“Dirty Word” aired near the end of the Super Bowl on NBC affiliates that reach most of Iowa’s population.
Male voice-over: It’s true. [man looks up from newspaper at camera]
We openly admit it. [footage of someone placing a Delaney for president yard sign in the ground]
John Delaney said a dirty word in Davenport. [footage of the candidate speaking to voters]
Then repeated it in Des Moines. And Sioux City too. [footage of people of different ages, looking at the camera, seeming surprised]
In fact, he’s been saying it all across the state. Unabashedly telling people he’s a firm believer in, well… [outdoor scenes from different Iowa cities, footage of Delaney talking with various people]
John Delaney: Bipartisanship. Bipartisanship. Bipartisanship. [clips from two conversations with voters and one speech at a podium]
Voice-over: It might be a dirty word in Washington. [words on screen “It might be a dirty word in Washington…”]
But it seems to be awfully refreshing right here in Iowa. [footage of people applauding after a Delaney speech, a man smiling, looking at camera]
Delaney’s voice: I’m John Delaney, and I approve this message. [footage of Delaney walking with his wife and daughters]
“THE WORK STARTS NOW”
Here the second Delaney ad, “Early.”
No words for the first fifteen seconds, as the viewer sees footage of early-morning scenes: landscape before dawn, people getting ready to open a business or do farm chores.
Male voice-over: Most Iowans understand the concept of starting early. [more footage of ordinary people doing typical morning tasks]
After all, there’s an awful lot of work to be done. [viewer sees John Delaney campaign logo with American flag flying in background]
John Delaney: How do we bring our country together? How do we begin to heal a fractured nation? [Footage of Delaney speaking to voters at a kitchen table, talking to people]
Voice-over: The work starts now. [footage of Delaney walking with his wife and daughters]
Delaney’s voice: I’m John Delaney, and I approve this message. [photo of candidate at podium with John Delaney for president sign]
UPDATE: The campaign’s third tv ad, “Jobs,” began running on February 8.
John Delaney, talking to a man while sitting at the counter in a diner: There are six million people looking for jobs.
Delaney, speaking to an audience: Jobs
Talking with people at a kitchen table: Jobs
Male voice-over: Maybe the reason John Delaney likes to talk about jobs so much is because he’s created so many of them. [footage of Delaney in various settings, unidentified man in hardhat]
After his father’s labor union scrounged up the money to send John to college, [viewer sees old family photo of Delaney with his dad, then a photo of Columbia University commencement with “Graduation ’85” written on it]
he built companies dedicated to financing small businesses the big banks ignored, which helped create jobs. [black and white photos of Delaney, then color footage of him shaking hands with someone]
Thousands and thousands of them. [images of ordinary workers]
Hey, if you’re going to run for the biggest job in America, it helps if you’ve actually created some. [footage of Delaney with his family, someone putting a Delaney yard sign in the ground, someone getting a small business ready to open for the day]
Delaney’s voice: I’m John Delaney, and I approve this message. [black and white photo of Delaney waving to a crowd from behind a podium with his campaign logo]
“HYPER-PARTISAN POLITICS IS TEARING OUR COUNTRY APART”
As mentioned above, Delaney was the featured speaker at the Third Congressional District Hall of Fame dinner on October 14, 2017. Here he is seated with the living legend Neal Smith, who represented parts of central Iowa in the U.S. House from 1959 to 1995.
Here’s an unedited audio file of Delaney’s speech. His remarks start around the 3:40 mark, following an introduction by former Polk County Democratic Party chair Tom Henderson.
After congratulating the award-winners, thanking organizers for the opportunity to speak, and acknowledging the volunteers who do so much work to help elect Democrats, Delaney began his pitch (around 4:55) with these words:
We all know we’re in a tough spot as a nation. We’re in a really, really, tough spot. Which is why it’s so important for us to think differently about our party and about politics in this country. And I don’t think we’re in a tough spot across the long-term. I think the hand that this country has, relative to any other country in the world, in some ways has never been better. But right now, we’re in a really tough spot.
And I’m not just talking about the man in the White House. Right? Obviously, that’s the punctuation, in many ways, in my opinion, of everything that’s wrong with politics. Because hyper-partisan politics is tearing our country apart. It’s dividing communities. It’s even dividing families. How many of you know families–maybe even your own family–where people have stopped talking to each other because of what happened in the last election?
I mean, we all know we’re supposed to put, right? We all know we’re supposed to put country ahead of party. But for God’s sakes, we should put family ahead of party. But that’s where we are right now. And maybe the biggest problem with what’s happened with politics in our country right now, is that it’s stopped us from doing anything. We’re frozen. And the country has so many large-scale opportunities and so many significant challenges to overcome. But we’re doing nothing about any of them, and we haven’t done anything about these things for decades.
And as you all know, and I know from my own life, the cost of doing nothing is not nothing. And we’re paying a very, very high price as a country right now because of our inability at the federal level to actually do the things we know we should do. To actually have a discussion about the things we agree on. As opposed to always talking about the things we don’t agree on.
Because that’s what politics has become. It’s become a giant discussion about all the things we don’t agree on. Instead of spending any time talking about the things we agree on.
“THIS IS REALLY PERSONAL TO ME”
Delaney noted the vast changes in the national and global economy over the last few decades. The resulting dislocation has produced winners and losers, making some people question whether the U.S. should have become part of the global economy. He continued,
Of course we made the right decision to become part of the global economy. But where we made the wrong decision, or I would argue, the immoral decision, is not to do anything as a country to deal with the communities and the individuals who we knew–or we should have known–would have been hurt by this decision. And we continue to this day to talk about it, but we don’t do anything about it. And it’s going to happen again.
In the business community, academia, and the non-profit world, Delaney argued, many people realize that technological innovation, automation, and artificial intelligence are “fundamentally changing everything”: society, workplaces, demographics, security risks. But no one in politics is talking about how we can better prepare the country for these changes.
What’s really at risk is the thing that maybe is most central to who we are as a people, which is this notion of the American dream. Which is, if you work hard, play by the rules, the next generation can do better than the current generation. Sixty percent of the kids in this country under 18 live in a county where there’s absolutely no evidence that there’s economic upward mobility. So one would argue that for 60 percent of the kids, the next generation, generations to come, we’re writing them off.
And this is really personal to me, as it is for so many of you, because I lived the American dream. I grew up in a blue-collar household. My dad was an electrician. He was a union electrician. I heard some applause for the IBEW. (applause)
Life wasn’t fancy at all, but it was good. When my dad worked, which was most of the time, he earned enough to support us. When he didn’t work, he had health care. Right? So we never thought about health care. And when I went to college, when I went to Columbia University, that union paid for half of my tuition every single year.
But that was the social contract back then. You work hard, you play by the rules, your community and your country support you.
“THE COUNTRY IS CRYING FOR THIS”
Delaney recalled the day he took his first company public in 1996. Going into the New York Stock Exchange building in lower Manhattan, he looked across the Hudson River toward his home town of Jersey City. He thought about going to the IBEW union hall in town every year to thank the electricians for giving him an opportunity that “not one of them had.” He could see Ellis Island, where one of his grandfathers was detained for having one arm, but eventually admitted by a judge who also was missing an arm.
That’s the way the country used to be, Delaney said. He believes the reason the American dream isn’t resonant today is because “we don’t do anything. We’re frozen.”
And the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, which is the party that believes that government can and should do transformative things to make life better for our citizens, should be the party that leads this country back toward civility in politics. Back to a world where we have some respect for the notion of public service. Think about all the wonderful public servants in this room who you’ve heard from tonight. The fact that the country doesn’t respect the contributions that these people made to society–how did we let that happen?
This is an enormous opportunity for the Democratic Party. It’s not only the right answer, clearly, by any measure, but it’s a huge political opportunity. Because the country is crying for this. They want the fighting to end. They want us to come together. They want us to get things done. And we can do it, right? But we have to start talking about our fellow citizens as if half of them are not entirely wrong about everything they believe, which is kind of what we’ve started to do with political parties.
We have to start talking more about getting rid of insidious forces like gerrymandering, that pervert the political system and bend it away from the will of the people. We have to get the money out of politics. Right? The next president should commit to only do bipartisan things in the first 100 days. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t that be amazing? (applause)
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the next president said, “I’m actually going to focus on the things we agree on.” Right? And get some of those things done. And then we could start working on some of the harder things, like how we take 60 percent of this country, that has been hollowed out by [economic] changes, and do the kind of things to make sure capital–private capital and public capital–will flow to these communities.
Delaney learned as an entrepreneur that “nothing happens unless someone invests.” He has introduced a bill with 40 Democratic and 40 Republican co-sponsors, which would invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure projects “and pays for it entirely by fixing our international taxes.”
He said there are bipartisan ways to create incentives for private enterprises to “invest in parts of the country that have been left behind.” The federal government “should only be contracting with companies who do a disproportionate amount of their business in counties that are economically deprived.” He would allow people to defer capital gains taxes from stock sales for ten years, “but you have to invest your proceeds in economic opportunity zones that we’re going to set up.”
To prepare the country for the future, the U.S. also needs “an entirely new social contract.” Instead of K-12 schools, we should be thinking about a pre-K through community college educational system. We should not link health care or retirement to employment.
These are the things we need to do to prepare our citizens for a world that’s going to change. They’re going to need three, four, five jobs across their lives, not one. And they need to be trained on an ongoing basis, and there are smart ways of doing that.
This is the hard work we need to do. But before we do this, we need to actually start getting some of the easy things done. And the way to do that is to bring the country together, and that’s what’s the Democratic Party should stand for.
“WE CANNOT WIN BY JUST SAYING HOW BAD HE IS”
Delaney shifted gears to talk about what went wrong for our party in 2016. Donald Trump won the presidency for two reasons: first, “Democrats didn’t turn out.” The energy in the Democratic Party and the “resistance” movement demonstrates that “we’ve learned our lesson.”
But there’s another reason he won. A lot of Democrats and a whole bunch of independents voted for him, because as hard as it is for us to believe–I’ve never met him, but I think he’s the most narcissistic person I’ve ever observed in my life. So it’s hard for us to believe this, but a lot of Americans thought he was going to fight for them. And we weren’t. So we cannot win by just saying how bad he is. That’s not a formula for success. (applause)
We’ve got to fight him when he does things wrong, which is about every 15 minutes, but we also have to talk to the American people about what they care about. Not what we care about. (comments of agreement from the audience)
I love the Democratic Party to my bones. But we are the party of a thousand flowers blooming. We have so many issues, and we’re right about the overwhelming majority of them. But a lot of people don’t care about them. What people care about–and you know this, because you talk to your friends and your neighbors, the people you go to church with, people you work with. At the end of the day, they care about their job, the dignity of work, their pay, and the opportunity for their kids. That’s what they care about.
Every time the Democratic Party is not talking about those, is a missed opportunity. Because we’re right on these issues. (applause)
Wrapping up, Delaney talked about returning the U.S. to “the land of opportunity,” where the grandson of a one-armed immigrant, the son of parents who never went to college, could start two companies, take them public, serve his country in Congress, and run for president.
If we want to be that country, we have to start talking to the American people about what they care about. And what they care about is they want us to come together. Right? Because we have as a nation, kind of almost an inexplicable link to our government. We’re proud of our government. We’re proud of the good and noble things we have done across history. We identify with it. It was this amazing experiment that worked.
And when it’s failing, and when we lose confidence and faith in our government, we lose faith in our country, and we lose faith in ourselves. And if the Democratic Party is the party that can lead us out of this, to the world we’d like to have again in government, then man, we’ll win every election.
“IF WE WANT TO DO ANYTHING WE CARE ABOUT, WE HAVE TO START WINNING ELECTIONS”
Toward the end of the IA-03 Hall of Fame event in October, I followed up with Delaney on his call for Democrats to focus on the few things “people care about,” as opposed to the “thousand flowers blooming.”
Some activists are anxious that in the pursuit of white working class voters who have drifted away from the party, Democratic politicians might abandon their commitment to reproductive rights or policies geared toward racial justice, protecting immigrants, or LGBTQ equality. How would he respond to those who perceive a possible willingness to abandon fundamental rights when Democrats say our party should focus on issues that are relevant to working people?
Well, I see no evidence that anyone who wants to make the Democratic Party a bigger tent party, which I do, wants to compromise on any of those things that are central to who we are.
I mean, my view is the Democratic Party is actually very aligned. Right? If you look at where we are as a party on every major issue, including the ones you mentioned. You know, where are we as a party on climate change? Where are we as a party on health care? We believe everyone should have health care, that’s a right. We believe climate change is a problem, human behavior is contributing to it, we should do something about it. Right? We are in alignment. We have some disagreements about how to get there. But the Republican Party’s in a totally different universe on these issues.
So for us to allow ourselves to be divided, because people are demanding some kind of purity on issues that haven’t even been debated within our own party. Right? They are immediately concluding that their perspective on how to solve a problem that we all agree on is definitively the right answer. And it hasn’t even been debated. I think that’s just going to divide the party and it’s going to cause us to lose elections, and we’re not going to be able to do any of the things we care about.
What people have to realize is, if we want to do anything we care about, we have to start winning elections. And the way we win elections is make sure we stay true to who we are, but also make sure we make the party as big of a tent party as possible.
UPDATE: The Delaney campaign announced on February 9 that Henry Holt will publish the candidate’s first book in June: The Right Answer: How We Can Unify Our Divided Nation.
Top image: Screen shot from “Early,” the second commercial for John Delaney’s presidential campaign.