Jackie Norris is a community leader and small business owner. She once served as the assistant to President Barack Obama and White House chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and worked in leadership roles on the Gore and Obama Iowa campaigns.
Dear Iowa Democrats,
I’m an eternal optimist and choose to focus on what’s next.
We have an opportunity.
Let’s focus on what we can control – our own state’s future.
Let’s hold on to the qualities we loved so dearly about the Iowa caucuses and apply them to help elect Democrats across our state.
For me, that means going back to the basics.
1. Precinct by precinct infrastructure.
I may be dating myself, but in the 2008 caucuses, each volunteer precinct captain was expected to know the voters in their precinct and the candidate they were supporting. They were excited when new voters showed up at their bequest, and they called the people who said they were coming and hadn’t shown up yet. It was a highly coordinated yet highly decentralized effort that relied on precinct volunteers to turn out the vote. Is this hard work? Heck yes. Does it pay off? Heck yes.
2. Policy conversations.
Yes. I said the word policy! We expect every candidate to have every policy figured out the minute they announce their candidacy and are unyielding and relentless in lobbying them to take a stated position or be canceled out. Don’t we want to elect a thoughtful person who listens and reflects?
Iowa Democrats should host and encourage those conversations around the state. We should be seen as a party that cares about the issues. One of my favorite caucus memories was when then-Senator Barack Obama told staff to track down a random woman whom he had a conversation with regarding her health care experience. This story later informed a major policy position he took. He listened, reflected, and this experience later informed a piece of legislation.
3. Homegrown talent.
Iowa has so much talent, yet every year we rely on out-of-state consultants and staff to tell our candidates what to say and how to say it, and often direct volunteers to execute a one-size-fits-all campaign. (Full disclosure, I moved to Iowa in 1998 to work for Tom Vilsack. Maybe I was one of those!)
Is there value in learning new things from new people? Absolutely. Should we be swayed away from doing the things that we know have worked in the past because someone outside of our state tells us to do it? Not without discussion.
4. Campaigns are not won on Twitter.
Who cares? Use social media as a strategy in organizing, but do not supplant it for organizing. Any candidate who thinks they will win without a relationship-based field strategy that involves some form of face-to-face contact will likely not win. My husband once shared that when you walk into a crowded campaign headquarters during the evening or weekend and it is quiet, you are likely going to lose. If everyone is texting or posting or emailing and no one is calling or out knocking on doors, it’s likely a warning sign.
Finally, more Iowans need to make this work a priority. I’ll be honest, there were plenty of days when I ignored the call for volunteers and chose my family, work, exercise, or something else that I wanted to do. I didn’t heed the call. Everyone who cares needs to look in the mirror long enough to ask themselves this question, “Did I do enough this election cycle?” I know my answer and I’m not proud of it.
This essay is not about looking back, it is about looking forward and remembering that the caucuses taught us a lot of lessons. Just because the presidential candidates are gone, it doesn’t mean that all the things we loved about the caucuses must be lost also.
So, let’s embrace the change as an opportunity to return to our roots and rebuild. That’s the choice we control and how we respond will determine our success in the future.
Top photo of Jackie Norris provided by the author and published with permission.