Iowa Democrats Want Back Control Of The State, Starting With The Governor

Jun 4, 2018

The stakes are high for Iowa Democrats in the midterms this year. It's been a while since there's been a major win for the party in the swing state. And Tuesday could be one of the first steps. That's when Democratic voters will select a candidate to run against Iowa's Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds.

Early voting in Iowa was underway and primary day was less than two weeks away when a bombshell story shook up the Democratic race for the state's top seat. Three women came forward accusing one of the candidates, State Senator Nate Boulton, of sexual misconduct. The 38-year-old had been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, and then Boulton quickly suspended his campaign.

The Iowa Senate Democratic minority leader is calling on the first-term Senator to resign. And meanwhile, the remaining five candidates have been working to woo Boulton's supporters. As a labor attorney, Boulton has been a champion for union worker rights in the legislature. And the state's largest public sector workers union endorsed him.

"I am going to do everything in my power to elect a Democrat [for] governor of this state and every other elected office that we can," says Danny Homan, the union's president. "I believe in absolutely nothing that Kim Reynolds stands for."

And swaying Boulton's supporters will be critical for the remaining candidates — polls showed Boulton was the most likely candidate to pull ahead of the front-runner: Fred Hubbell.

Hubbell is a 67-year-old businessman who served on the board of the regional Planned Parenthood. And he's wealthy. He's put nearly $3 million of his own money into his campaign and is massively outspending all the other candidates.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell, who is in the lead according to polls, speaks with supporters in downtown Des Moines before a debate with fellow party members less than a week before the primary.
Credit Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

"Fred told me before either of us got in that I couldn't run," one of his competitors, longtime Democratic operative John Norris, pointed out in a light-hearted moment in a debate in May, "because he was going to have all the money."

Hubbell's wealth doesn't bother Felicia Hilton, a supporter. She gathered with others who say he has their vote outside the Democrats' final debate last week.

"If Fred Hubbell is willing to spend every dime that he has, in my opinion, to save Iowa from this radical extreme Republican party right now, I'm all for it," Hilton said.

With total control of the statehouse last year, Republicans passed many conservative priorities, like gutting public sector union rights and passing the country's most restrictive abortion law — which has been temporarily blocked by a district judge.

Governor Kim Reynolds signs SF-359, one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the U.S. It prohibits an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. A district judge has temporarily blocked the law.
Credit John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

Hubbell and the other candidates regularly attack Gov. Reynolds for what they say is fiscal mismanagement and for giving too many tax breaks to corporations. They also criticize Gov. Reynolds for not reversing the state's privatized Medicaid.

"We need to fix this state," Hubbell told NPR walking into the final debate. "We need to turn it around and take it back where most Iowans want it."

Meanwhile, Gov. Reynolds has had to introduce herself to Iowans this election. That's because she was never elected to the office. She's been lieutenant governor since 2011 and last year when President Donald Trump tapped Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to become the US Ambassador to China, Reynolds took over. She's unopposed in her primary and is running ads trying to show voters who she is.

Cathy Glasson, a Democratic candidate for Governor, a nurse and a union leader says that in order to win against Reynolds, she and her opponents need to lean far to the left.

"They think by staying in the center and doing status quo politics, as usual, is how to beat [Reynolds]," Glasson says. "It's absolutely not the way to beat her because Democrats have lost 11 out of the last 14 governor races by doing that." Glasson has the support of many Iowans who backed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential election.

Betty Salmon, a retired teacher, came to talk to Glasson at a campaign event in Des Moines. She says she thinks Glasson, who's calling for Medicare for all and stricter gun control, would beat Reynolds. "She is trying to make up for a lot of lost years that we've been sitting on the fence and not really addressing the problems that have been building up."

Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Andy McGuire and former Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn are also seeking their party’s nomination for governor on Tuesday.