No one’s talking about the rivalry ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor — a sign of how much the political landscape will have changed by 2020.
Democratic presidential wannabes, take note: Iowa politics looks nothing like it did just two years ago during the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders smackdown.
Ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor — the first and only statewide Democratic race before the 2020 caucuses — the Clinton-Sanders dynamic has been a non-factor.
It’s not that the dynamic isn’t there: A pair of candidates in the crowded primary have aligned themselves with the 2016 presidential hopefuls who fought bitterly to a razor-thin Clinton win. But it’s a wealthy, white 67-year old man with a long history in business and state politics who’s expected to win.
And even the gubernatorial contenders in the Clinton and Sanders molds say that the Democratic divide is so 2016.
“We are ready to put that to bed,” said Cathy Glasson, a nurse and union leader who was one of Sanders’ biggest backers and is endorsed by Our Revolution, the group that was inspired by his campaign.
Glasson said she’s not focused on a fight against a Clinton wing anymore, and she doesn’t know many who are. “Individuals will bring it up, but it gets shut down pretty quickly. That doesn’t get anybody a better life, better wages, better jobs.”
“The differences that might have been apparent at some point between the Bernie Sanders and the Hillary group are so miniscule compared to the horrible things that have happened in the last two years,” agreed candidate Andy McGuire, a former state Democratic chair whose Clinton allegiance went so far as ordering a “HRC 2016” license plate ahead of that race. “That’s what people are talking about.”
To the extent there are echoes of the 2016 Democratic caucus, Sanders has a lot to be happy about. All the candidates want to raise the minimum, most of them to $15, and to expand access to health care. They’re leaning hard into grass-roots organizing, bringing in younger voters, and reaching out to the rural voters who abandoned Clinton. And they’re all hearing a sense of disenchantment with the parties and the system that they’re trying to address.
Democrats watching the race and looking for early signals for 2020 note what a difference having a big field seems to have made in the dynamics of the race: six candidates were running until two weeks ago, now down to five. Compared with the binary choice Democratic voters had in 2016, the 2020 presidential field could be three or four times as big, making it harder for Sanders or anyone else to rocket ahead.
But the size of the field isn’t the only thing that’s changed; so has the party’s outlook in Washington and Iowa, where Democrats have been shut out of power. Democrats in both places are trying to fight back against big-ticket GOP initiatives, including a state budget full of tax and spending cuts that mirror those signed by President Donald Trump last year.
“A lot of Democrats are feeling we got hammered these last two years,” said Democratic front-runner Fred Hubbell, who has heavily financed his campaign, “and they’re afraid that you let this go on for another four years, we’re not going to be able to recognize our state anymore.”
Hubbell appears to be on track to clear the 35 percent threshold that would secure him the nomination without having to fight it out at the state convention next weekend. Given his business background, some Iowa operatives were surprised last week when Hubbell made a point of identifying himself as a “progressive” in the final debate of the race.
But Hubbell is running on increasing funding for public education and increasing water quality regulations, and against corporate breaks in the state budget. Against a backdrop of Reynolds signing the most restrictive abortion law in the country last month, he’s airing ads statewide touting his donations to Planned Parenthood clinics over the years.
Reynolds is running for a full term of her own, after completing the term Terry Branstad exited to become Trump’s ambassador to China. She is looking to keep the governorship in Republican hands for three straight terms in a state that’s where Democrats have won only three gubernatorial elections in the past 40 years.
Hubbell’s opponents swear that whoever wins the Democratic primary, the bitterness won’t linger like it did after Clinton came out on top two years ago. They’re worried about flubbing their chances in November if it does.
The Clinton-Sanders split is still at work in some other states this year. In New York, tensions boiled over in the Democratic gubernatorial primary two weeks ago after Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his race against actress Cynthia Nixon. And the Democratic National Committee’s so-called “unity reform commission” is still sparring over superdelegates and caucus voting — an issue expected to come to a head at a meeting in Rhode Island this weekend.
In Iowa, Glasson, the Sanders-aligned candidate, is hoping for a late surge after the exit of Nate Boulton, the state senator who had been running strong with significant union support before he was forced out of the race by harassment allegations. But whether or not she leapfrogs into a win, Glosson said she and her supporters will be an active force in the general election — in a way that many Sanders supporters were not for Clinton after she won the nomination in 2016.
Glasson said the 2020 presidential hopefuls should pay attention to what’s caught on in this year’s primary: raising the minimum wage, massively expanding access to health care, pumping up organized labor, talking up environmental regulations.
“Sanders mainstreamed a lot of things,” said Jeremy Dumkrieger, chair of the Woodbury County Democratic Party.
Hubbell said that far from dwelling on the divide between Sanders and Clinton Democrats, he’s busy chasing the mass of voters in the state who went with Barack Obama in the 2008 caucuses, stuck with him through two general elections, then turned around and helped give Trump a 10-point win over Clinton in 2016.
Those voters, Hubbell said, will have huge sway over the 2020 race — especially if Trump’s trade and tariff policies snap back with retaliatory moves which hit state farmers hard, as many expect.
Trade hasn’t been a major issue in the primary, Hubbell said, but it could be by November.
Though Hubbell said “we’re running against Reynolds, we’re not running against Trump,” he warned that the president might encounter a fierce backlash if he comes to campaign for the governor. “If we have a worse tariff war, if we have changes to NAFTA, he’s not going to be very popular around here.”
Ann Selzer, who runs the state’s most famous and reliable polling company, said her gubernatorial primary polls — which put Hubbell solidly ahead — didn’t even include questions on whether voters had supported Sanders or Clinton. She hadn’t seen it as a big issue in the campaign discussion.
After all, the flip side of Iowa being the first-in-the-nation caucus is that voters there went through the Clinton-Sanders trauma before it ran through the rest of the country.
“Keep in mind,” Selzer said, “Iowa has had the longest time to knit back together.”
Of course, all the presidential calculations based on the primary will be thrown out the window if Reynolds beats whoever comes out on top.
“That story doesn’t get written until November,” said Scott Brennan, a former state party chair, “because—are they successful?
Politico · by Edward-Isaac Dovere · June 4, 2018