Prominent Iowa Democrats to debate non-qualifiers: Don't drop out

Four Democrats recently ended their presidential bids, after it became clear they would not qualify for tonight’s televised debate from Houston.

But more than half a dozen candidates who weren’t on stage tonight continue to actively campaign in Iowa. Several prominent Iowa Democrats are encouraging them to stay in the race and not let the Democratic National Committee narrow the field by default.

Former U.S. Representative and Iowa Democratic Party state chair Dave Nagle, a longtime defender of the Iowa caucuses and our state’s place in the calendar, sharply criticized the DNC’s debate criteria during a September 10 telephone interview with Bleeding Heartland. “What the national party has done is turned [the race] into a national primary based on polling data of questionable value and money,” he said.

For candidates who have come to Iowa and invested their time and resources, Nagle added, “I want to reassure them that they’re going to get a fair hearing in Iowa, and we’re going to listen to them, and we’re going to give them a fair shot.” He noted that the race is “extraordinarily volatile,” because there are “so many undecided out there.” History shows that a number of candidates with low polling numbers months before the caucuses ended up doing well on caucus night. (Fact check: true, as Dan Guild discussed in his review of several decades of Iowa caucus polling. More than half of Iowa Democrats who participated in the 2004 and 2008 caucuses decided during the final month.)

Nagle also pointed out that unlike the old days, when you needed political action committees or major donors to support a presidential campaign, a candidate who gets hot late and does well in Iowa could have “almost instantaneous access to money through the internet” and “enter the second phase of the campaign well-funded.” The DNC debate rules are pushing the campaign toward “a money-driven, name ID contest.” But “I don’t want these candidates to feel like the national chairman [Tom Perez] has closed the door on their opportunity.” Long-shot candidates can “remain in the race and realize they still have a real possibility to do well.”

Finally, Nagle said, “We want the best candidate, but we also want the best ideas. And when we limit the candidates, we limit the best ideas. That’s unfortunate.” By way of example, he mentioned Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s proposals for fighting climate change, which influenced other contenders, and Senator Michael Bennet’s “dynamite” proposal for preschool and community college, which “would free up money for the school districts of Iowa to spend on K-12” education. Governor Steve Bullock won a red state: “Those are people we should hear from and not be precluded because they didn’t raise enough money.”

Other prominent Democrats share his views, Nagle said, mentioning State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, Attorney General Tom Miller, and Ken Sagar, the president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and a former treasurer of the Iowa Democratic Party. Fitzgerald agreed, saying in a statement provided on September 12, “Let Iowans decide who they want to be the nominee,” without the national party restricting that role.

Reached by phone on September 11, Sagar said he has also been encouraging “everybody to stay in the race.” Like Nagle, he doesn’t plan to endorse any candidate before the caucuses. He feels the large field benefits Democrats, because whatever your views on key issues, “There is somebody out there with a message that resonates.”

Miller (an early Bullock endorser) said by phone on September 12, “I just don’t think there’s any way the Democratic National Committee should be deciding which candidates move on and which don’t.” Vetting presidential contenders is a job for Democrats “in Iowa and New Hampshire and beyond. That’s not something the DNC should do.” He called the Montana governor “one of the most electable candidates we have […] For the DNC to try and eliminate him from the race is just outrageous.”

P.S. Two weeks ago, Nagle blasted the DNC for nixing the state party’s virtual caucus plan, asserting, “It’s all just Chairman Perez’s deep hostility toward the Iowa caucus, which he’s expressed on numerous occasions.”

Top image: Dave Nagle.

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Laura Belin