Give Ras a chance

Charlie Hodges is a Democratic activist in Polk County.

In early 2020, I had a memorable evening, but not for the reason I anticipated. I attended a house party for Joe Biden before the Iowa caucuses and looked forward to meeting members of Biden’s family and a former U.S. Ambassador, among others. However, as the evening played out, the biggest impression made was by an Iowa House member from Waterloo: Representative Ras Smith.

I left the party having met several very interesting people, but I was not thinking about the caucuses at all, frankly. I thought about how Ras Smith completely held the attention of that room filled with dignitaries when he talked. I thought about how inspirational and hopeful he was. I thought about how charismatic he was. I thought about what his next step in politics would be – because I knew the Iowa House was not his ceiling.

Now we know - he’s running to be our next governor

If there was ever a time Iowans needed someone to lift us up, it is now. To say Governor Kim Reynolds has been an unmitigated disaster is an understatement of Brobdingnagian proportions. To my point here, Reynolds and her party have sown discord and division among Iowans like no other time in my lifetime; utilizing the tried-and-true GOP tactics of fear mongering, playing on prejudices and misinformation. She has no interest in the well-being of Iowans. She wants power, and she will do anything necessary to that end.

To heal the divisions Reynolds and the Iowa GOP trifecta have sown, we need someone like Ras to bring us together and aspire to something greater than our base instincts.

Go to a meet and greet with Ras, and you will get it. When he says, “Come as you are,” he means it. Unlike Reynolds, Ras does not care about Iowans in proportion to campaign donation totals or utility for personal ambitions. Ras wants Iowa to be its best. He is willing to talk and listen to anyone to get us there. You certainly do not need to be a major donor or part of the fringe party base to have his ear. 

Even given my personal feelings toward Ras, as a pragmatist, the big question for me is electability. With my fear of the irreparable damage another Reynolds term would wreak on my state, I do not take this lightly. I truly believe Ras can win and rescue Iowa from the trifecta.

Let’s start with Democrats. Between the current candidates and a few others rumored to have interest, I believe Ras is the best positioned to unify and motivate the party. Turnout is incredibly important for Iowa Democrats, and the nominee for governor must be able to motivate all Democrats to get to the polls. Democrats don’t need another apolitical, least objectionable alternative candidate. We need someone who can motivate all Democrats.

Ras supported Biden during the caucus and beyond, which gives him credibility with moderate Democrats. He has support among Iowa House and Senate Democrats, and many other elected officials. He has shown the ability to work across the aisle on such items as police reform and pushing Reynolds to promise and (belatedly) fulfill her promise to restore felony conviction voting rights.

Among progressive Democrats, Ras also has strong credibility. He is a true advocate for civil rights and has consistently proven his advocacy with action, working diligently, out front, to make Iowa a more equitable place for all. It is no mean feat for an Iowa Democrat to be able to generate positivity across the Democratic spectrum right now. Ras can do that.

A critical hurdle to a Democratic victory in the general election is the Obama/Trump voter - particularly the blue-collar Obama/Trump voter that was swayed by the former president and the Iowa GOP’s rhetoric and divisiveness. How do Democrats get those voters back in enough numbers to move the needle?

Again, I believe Ras is uniquely qualified for this challenge. As the son of a union John Deere worker, Ras knows what it means to live in a blue-collar household. He can speak from personal experience to how disastrous GOP policies have been for working people and unions in our state, via his life experience and time in the Iowa legislature.

With major strikes in the news, Iowa Democrats, including Ras, are standing with Iowa workers, while the Iowa GOP and Reynolds say nothing of substance in support of working Iowans. The GOP silence is deafening, and Ras can speak to these issues with first-hand experience and the gravitas that comes with that.

What about rural voters, including the daunting task of the fourth Congressional district and other deeply red rural areas? Can Ras win a majority of IA-04? Realistically, probably not. The question is, can Ras cut into the margins in rural Iowa? I believe he can. It’s about enabling a conversation.

I attended a meeting former Congressional candidate J.D. Scholten held a few months ago on voting rights. In that meeting, J.D. talked about how often rural Iowans hear the word “Democrat” and shut down; unwilling to even engage. Democrats must nominate a candidate who can get through the barrier and engage in conversation.

Will it be easy? No. However, as noted above, Ras comes from a blue-collar background and understands what a hard day’s work means. He is also from a military family, farms, and is an avid hunter and responsible gun owner – things that resonate with rural voters. Additionally, he spent time in IA-04 with J.D. this past cycle, has seen what Democrats are up against, and has a plan for reaching those voters.

In sum, it’s not about winning rural Iowa this cycle. It’s making sure folks there know they are being heard, prove that Democrats will show up and give a damn about them, and start up a conversation. They live here, too, and Ras understands that Democrats need to address that. Then we work to cut into the margins. Ras can do that.

A final question is current name recognition. Some question how Ras can win when his name recognition is currently low across the state and dismiss his candidacy. To this I say that it’s often not the “big name” or “presumptive” candidates that bring victories for Democrats. It’s lesser known, and often charismatic candidates that can make people believe and hope again, then build momentum as people get to know them.

In 2018, an underdog businesswoman defeated the IA-03 incumbent, who had been re-elected by 14 points two years earlier. A largely unknown governor from Arkansas defeated an incumbent president and heir to the Reagan era and won Iowa twice. A junior senator from Illinois dared America to hope again - a senator who shocked the nation by winning the Iowa caucuses and carrying the state twice in presidential elections.

Go see Ras. Meet him. Listen to him. Talk to him. Come as you are. You may just dare to hope once again in Iowa. 

To follow Ras Smith's campaign: website, Facebook, Twitter

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