What Happened to Iowa Democrats?

Nov 5, 2014

Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Bruce Braley delivers his concession speech at the Hotel Fort Des Moines (11/04/2014.)
Credit Sarah Boden / Iowa Public Radio

“What happened?” is a question on the minds of many Iowa Democrats. 

Few expected state Sen. Jack Hatch to put incumbent Gov. Terry Branstad on the ropes in the gubernatorial contest. However Democratic prospects appeared bright for the U.S. Senate, as well the 1st and 3rd Congressional Districts, all open races that ended with victorious Republicans.

Political scientist Chris Larimer at the University of Northern Iowa writes via email, “The anti-establishment and anti-Obama messages seemed to resonate.” But he also warned that Iowa’s status as a purple state may be in jeopardy.

Democratic strategist Jerry Crawford agrees frustrations with the Obama administration are to blame, as well as his party’s historic trend of low-voter turnout during midterm elections.

“The Republicans are better voters than the Democrats,” says Crawford. “But our voters tend to vote more heavily in the presidential election, and I think you’re going to see things return to normal in 2016.”

The head of the Iowa Democrats, Scott Brennan, echoes Crawford’s sentiment.

“Politics is always cyclical…it was a wave nationally, a tsunami in some places,” says Brennan. “Frankly I think we actually held our own considering how bad it was in many, many places.”

GOP strategist Doug Gross also attributes dissatisfaction with President Obama, but he adds, “I thought the Republicans ran better campaigns and had better candidates."

"He signed it 'Your Favorite Congressman' and he put in parenthesis (you have no choice.)"

In particular he cites Senator-elect Joni Ernst, who will be the first Iowa woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.

“Ernst was a very disciplined candidate, with a very sophisticated media campaign,” says Gross. “(Democratic Rep.) Braley didn’t do a very good job introducing himself to Iowans.”

With the exit of a Democratic congressman and senator, and the entrance of Republicans, the sole Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation is 2nd District Rep. Dave Loebsack.

“I had an email from him this morning,” says Crawford. “He signed it ‘Your Favorite Congressman’ and he put in parenthesis (you have no choice.)”