New state chair: Democrats on all-Iowa connection mission3/1/2017
Party can’t just bash Trump, Reynolds and expect to win, Derek Eadon says
The key to resurrecting the Democratic Party in Iowa in the wake of two devastating campaign cycles in which presumed favorites Bruce Braley and Hillary Clinton fell on the swords of their own poor messaging is greater connectivity with voters on the basics — the economy and historically popular programs ingrained into daily life, says new Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Derek Eadon.
“Our message has been: ‘Don’t vote for this Republican’ or ‘this Republican is bad,’ ” Eadon said.
That’s changing. And fast, he said.
Eadon, who caucused for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said many of her closing advertisements focused on attacking Donald Trump, which proved politically fatal.
Intensity on issues, not identity politics, is the way back for the party, he said.
“We didn’t talk about the economy,” Eadon said. “The candidates who saw traction, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, this cycle, were tapping into this populism, this economic frustration. People kind of felt the system was rigged against them in some way.”
Threats to Social Security and more school consolidation, forced by Republican policies, could emerge as major talking points for a re-energized Democratic Party in the Hawkeye State with the 2018 election already well underway, Eadon said.
In an hour-long interview with this newspaper, Eadon, 33, a West Des Moines political veteran with deep ties to the campaign machinery of former President Barack Obama, said mobilizing the liberal base is vital. Social media and more online engagement is central to reach party activists interested in issues, not high-dollar fundraisers, he said.
The immediate focus: the 2018 gubernatorial race in Iowa that will pit Republican Kim Reynolds against a Democrat yet to emerge.
“This is going to be a very state-based organization,” he said.
Holding Reynolds and state legislators accountable is a first order of business, Eadon said.
“What I think they are doing is destroying economic opportunity for this generation and potentially future generations,” Eadon said.
In addition to Statehouse races, county contests and even school board elections will help stock Democratic benches for future elections, Eadon said, adding that candidate recruitment and training at all levels will be part of the Democrats’ rebuilding.
Both Reynolds and GOP U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst rose through county government to statewide prominence.
“We seem to be a party that’s just invested in the election that’s just ahead of us,” Eadon said.
Resources and time need to be dedicated to building a sustainable party — in rural, urban and suburban Iowa, one that is developed with the funding and sweat equity of Iowans, not outside campaigns, he said.
“We’re very dependent on out-of-state campaigns, out-of-state organizations coming in and dumping in resources a few months before the election,” Eadon said. “We have to be more self-reliant moving forward as a party.”
Why did Trump achieve high margins in rural Iowa?
“It was a change election,” Eadon said. “I think there was an economic frustration.”
Eadon added, “People are mad.”
Eadon said he’s encountered a number of Iowans who voted for both Trump and Obama over the past decade.
“I’ve been going to the same labor halls across the state,” Eadon said. “I’ve been going to the same Maid Rites across the state for 10 years. I’ve also been going to the same African-American churches. I’ve been going to the same Latino gatherings. And they are all peeved at Democrats because we are not talking about the economy.”
Eadon said there isn’t a map for political success in Iowa without rural Iowa.
He understands that many rural Iowans have a cultural connection with Republicans that cuts deeper than the issues.
“I think Democrats kind of take an us-versus-them tone,” Eadon said.
That considered, Eadon said Iowa Democrats, for example, must accept members and candidates who are pro-life on abortion.
“We have to,” he said. “I think we’re a big-tent party.”
A Catholic himself, Eadon said the state party has to recognize that large Catholic communities in Iowa are opposed to abortion rights, but are with Democrats on a host of other issues.
Something big to watch in rural Iowa, Eadon said, is whether Republicans, including Trump, hold true to promises they’ve made about the Iowa-commodity-boosting Renewable Fuel Standard.
Trump’s cabinet appointments, with ties to oil-rich states, are not encouraging for the future of renewable energy, Eadon said.
“I think Iowans could take a hit in this situation,” Eadon said. “A lot of Republicans are taking Donald Trump at his word. We’ve seen what happens if you take Donald Trump at his word.”
Eadon added, “Farmers are going to keep a close eye.”
The Derek Eadon file
• Derek Eadon was elected chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party in January.
• Originally from Elmhurst, Illinois.
• University of Iowa alum.
• While a student at the University of Iowa, he started his career in politics as a driver for Democrat Art Small’s long-shot campaign against U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
• In 2006, he worked for the Iowa Democratic Party in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. He worked for President Barack Obama’s successful Iowa campaigns, including serving as Iowa general election director in 2012. He also served as state director for Organizing for America in Iowa and as the 2010 Iowa Democratic Party coordinated campaign director.
• He worked as an adviser on progressive initiatives related to climate change, clean energy, gun control, child poverty, early-childhood education, paid leave, pay equity, organized labor, campaign finance reform, fair courts, anti-fraud and anti-smoking.
• He lives with wife, Melissa, a Tama native, in West Des Moines with their children Aubrey and Maddox and their bulldog. ♦