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Political Mercury

Identity politics weighs heavily in Iowa Democrats choice of narrator

12/31/2014

 

The least-known candidate for chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party is the best choice.

 

And that stands to reason. The party must re-acquaint itself with Iowa’s countryside, the land of the Three Democratic Giants. Tom Harkin sprang from Cumming, Henry A. Wallace is from Orient, and Harold Hughes, as his memoir framed it, was “The Man From Ida Grove.”

 

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The party is in desperate need of rural relevance, of a fighting spirit with a small-guy-versus-big money economic message — “The Democrats are with you where it matters.”

 

In a few weeks, the Iowa Democratic Party’s central committee faces an author’s choice for its story going forward. Who will be their narrator?

 

Tim Tracy, the co-chairman of the Carroll County Democratic Party, is the right man at the right time for the state party.

 

He’s a terrific public speaker with strong organizational skills and background in many of the rural reaches of the state, from Carroll to Ottumwa to Denison to Harlan to Oskaloosa, where he has, among other successes, excelled in advertising and chamber of commerce and economic-development work.

 

“The future of the Iowa Democratic Party starts right now,” Tracy said during a recent speech to the central committee. “That future is built on our core strength, that the Iowa Democratic Party cares about and works to better the lives of all Iowans. We are on their side. We have their back. We have the back of the working families in Iowa, those who are doing well and those who aren’t doing so well.”

 

Why didn’t the party do better in November?

 

“From Washington, D.C., to Washington, Iowa, frankly, we assumed too much,” Tracy said. “We took it for granted that Iowans understood that it was the policies of President Obama, Democrats in the House and Senate, and Democrats in our Statehouse, that brought us back from the brink of a Republican near-Depression. Every economic indicator is pointing in the right direction now, and we assumed people knew that. And we assumed wrong. We didn’t hammer away at that point.”

 

Tim’s one of the better opening acts I’ve seen for Iowa Democratic candidates. He translates what we know, that the Koch brothers and dark forces of greed have hijacked the system, rigged it for their ever-rolling profits at the expense of a disappearing middle class, into terms that are not only digestible, but motivating.

 

There’s something more. Tim will stand by unpopular candidates and forcefully advocate for them with a voice of cloud-clearing optimism. Ask Jack Hatch about this. Tim campaigned with him on the final two Sunday nights of the 2014 election cycle.

 

I know Tim well. He’s worked as an advertising consultant with our family of newspapers for years. Each business day, Tim interacts with small businesspeople from a wide swath of west-central Iowa, from Sac County to Adair County, from Crawford County to Boone County.

 

His job: earn the trust needed to learn what makes those rural entrepreneurs succeed and help them craft their message to customers.

 

A native of Des Moines and a Dowling Catholic High School alum, Tim knows the capital city well. But in rural Iowa, where he has spent the lion’s share of his adult life, Tim is one of us.

 

We live in the era of identity politics. Joni Ernst earned a U.S. Senate seat with a brilliant self-portrayal as an all-access Iowan, a politician with whom many have an instinctive connection. She projects a church-potluck friendliness. You could see yourself buying a Sloppy Joe or walking taco from her at the Red Oak High School booster club booth. We’ll soon see how real she is.

 

The Iowa Democratic Party would be smart to consider the rural Iowa Rotary Club front-door test. The audience has to accept the narrator or the Democrats’ story — no matter how layered with wit and wisdom — falls on reluctant, or even dismissive and distrustful ears. Who connects right away? Who speaks the language?

 

For too long now, the Democrats in Iowa, leading with a Des Moines-centric voice, have practiced the Art of False Familiarity with rural Iowa.

 

It’s time for the Iowa Democratic Party to get to know Tim Tracy, and in so doing, rediscover a statewide voice. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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