Democrats in Iowa: ‘I’m Done Falling in Love. I’m Falling in Line.’

Last weekend there were three big events in Iowa that drew in most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates: (1) the “Wing Ding” dinner in Clear Lake, (2) a forum on gun control, and (3) the opening of the Iowa State Fair. Matt Viser of the Washington Post was on hand and told some fascinating tales about where things stand in the state, which is five months away being the first to weigh in on the race.

As we all know, Biden leads the field in Iowa. But there is still a lot of uncertainty about him. For example:

Tracy Freese, the county chairwoman in Grundy County, said she, like many, has conflicted emotions about Biden.

“I wish he’d get his mojo back. I know he has it; I just haven’t seen it,” Freese said. She longs for the Biden who took on Paul D. Ryan in the 2012 vice presidential debate. “Where did that guy go?” she said. “I’m not seeing him right now.”

At the same time, Freese understands, intellectually at least, the argument that Biden may have the best chance of attracting GOP voters. “I’m done falling in love. I’m falling in line,” she said. “I do struggle with it, but I just want Republicans to be able to feel comfortable and vote for him.”

The sentiment of “I’m done falling in love. I’m falling in line” is another way of saying “vote blue no matter who.” In that way, Democrats in Iowa are sounding a lot like those in North Carolina. According to Viser, things are still pretty fluid in the Hawkeye state.

Many Democratic voters here say they have narrowed the field to a half-dozen possible choices…

[T]here is a sense in Iowa that no Democrat is turning in a slam-dunk performance, at least yet. “No candidate seems to be catching total fire, the way that some candidates have in the past,” Feirer said. “Every candidate has a serious asset that they bring to the race and also at least one liability. There’s no perfect candidate.”

Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democrats, added, “It’s weird that it’s still this chaotic and this open at this point still.”

With all of the retail politicking that goes on in Iowa, if things are still chaotic there, you can rest assured that they are even more so in the rest of the country.

Although Viser notes that there are lingering doubts about how Warren’s left-leaning policies will play in the general election, this might be what gives her the edge.

In surveying nearly half of the state’s 99 Democratic county chairs this week, there was widespread agreement that Warren has the most formidable organization. Her staffers have been showing up for months in rural and urban counties alike, holding meetings in small diners, helping at community events and running in local 5K races. Other campaigns are starting to make inroads, but they are months behind.

As we saw in 2008, Barack Obama beat the odds in Iowa with his superior ground game. Warren seems to have learned that lesson better than the other frontrunners. However, there are at least some Iowans who haven’t joined the bandwagon yet.

“One reason many of us . . . aren’t ready to put signs in our yard is that we recall the time early in 2008 when a young woman came to our county and stumped for her husband,” said Marjie Foster, chair of Decatur County Democrats. “No one had ever heard of her or her husband at the time. But a year later we were inaugurating him, and she was our first lady.”

Like Democrats all over the country, Iowans are most interested in beating Donald Trump. Perhaps the reason this primary seems so stable is that:

  1. No candidate has knocked Democratic voters off their feet,
  2. voters find some value in up to a half-dozen candidates, and
  3. in order to beat Trump, they are willing to “fall in line” with the one who becomes the nominee.

Candidates often tell us that “this is the most important election of our lifetimes.” The presidential race in 2020 might actually live up to that billing, so it would be a mistake to assume that it will be ordinary in any way. When party leaders suggest that things are still fluid and a bit chaotic in Iowa, perhaps that explains why.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.