DES MOINES, Iowa – The 2022 midterm elections were surprisingly positive for Democrats across the country. That was not the case in Iowa. Though Democrats avoided a “red wave” nationwide, the wave in Hawkeye state hit them hard.
The party that nearly won the state’s race for governor in 2018 and was about 10,000 votes away from the U.S. House delegation in Iowa is being expelled from the state’s congressional delegation. State Examiner Rob Sand will be the only Democrat to hold statewide office after two longtime incumbents, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, both lost close races. Iowa Republicans will also have their largest majority in the state legislature in more than 50 years.
“There’s no quick fix for us, so globally it’s a long-term strategy and an investment in Iowa,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn.
Wilburn, a state representative from Ames, knows it won’t be easy for his party to win consistently again in Iowa, but he said it’s certainly possible.
“Iowa is a crimson state,” he said. “And it may look red now, but we’re building the foundation for a future where every Iowan is valued and can thrive.”
“No one can convince me that Iowa is irrevocably red,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, co-chair of the political science department at Drake University.
She said Democrats could make a comeback in Iowa, but they have a lot to introspect first.
“This has traditionally and in modern times been a violet state,” she said. “I think it certainly has the potential to be a purple state in the future, but I think the Iowa Democratic Party needs to do some restructuring and build some parties.”
Paine Caufield said the Iowa Democrats and the National Party have lost touch with their historical working-class base. Those voters propelled Donald Trump to two wins in Iowa and continued to vote Republican in 2022.
“In places like Iowa, the message the DNC has put forward does not jibe with the concerns of many Iowa voters. I think that’s clear,” she said. “I think the best thing the Iowa Democratic Party could do at this point is go into those communities, rebuild capacity, and get investment.”
Wilburn said the party is evaluating its next steps since suffering losses in 2020, but rebuilding is beginning on the ground.
“We have a strong network of Democratic leaders. It starts with them. It starts with our state central committee meeting … of course we’ll look at the results and further breakdowns of the election itself, but we’re committed to putting the people first, and that’s what the Democrats are doing,” he said.
Wilburn said some positive signs of the 2022 election were victories in the House of Representatives in Ankeny. Democratic Senator Sarah Trone Garriott of West Des Moines also defeated Republican Senate President Jake Chapman of Adel in a close race. The two were paired in the same district after redistricting after the 2020 census.
The Democratic National Committee will decide in December whether Iowa will retain its status as the first contestant in the party’s presidential primary.