DES MOINES, Iowa — The 2022 midterm elections were surprisingly positive for Democrats across the country. That wasn’t the case in Iowa. Though Democrats avoided a “red wave” nationally, the wave hit them hard in the Hawkeye State.
The party, which came close to winning the state’s race for governor in 2018, and was about 10,000 votes from sweeping Iowa’s U.S. House delegation, will be shut out from the state’s congressional delegation. State Auditor Rob Sand will be the only Democrat to hold statewide office after two long-time 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,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said.
Wilburn, a State Representative from Ames, knows it won’t be easy for his party to start consistently winning again in Iowa, but he said it’s certainly possible.
“Iowa is a purple 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.”
“Nobody can convince me that Iowa is irremediably red,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, a co-chair of the political science department at Drake University.
She said Democrats can make a comeback in Iowa but they have a lot of soul-searching to do first.
“This traditionally has been, and in the modern era has been, a purple state,” she said. “I think it certainly has the potential to be a purple state going forward but I think the Iowa Democratic Party has some reorganization to do and some party building to do.”
Paine Caufield said Iowa Democrats, and the national party, have lost touch with their historic working-class labor base. Those voters propelled Donald Trump to two victories in Iowa and they continued voting Republican in 2022.
“In places like Iowa, the message that the DNC has put forward is not consistent with the concerns with a lot of voters in Iowa. I think that’s clear,” she said. “I think the best thing that the Iowa Democratic Party at this point could do is to go into those communities, to rebuild capacity, to get investment.”
Wilburn said the party’s been evaluating its next steps since it suffered losses in 2020 but rebuilding begins on the ground.
“We have a strong network of Democratic chairs. It starts with them. It starts with our State Central Committee meeting… obviously, we’ll take a look at the results and more breakdown of the election itself, but we’ve made a commitment to put people first and that’s what Democrats do,” he said.
Wilburn said some positive signs from the 2022 election were state house wins in Ankeny. Democratic State Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott of West Des Moines also defeated Republican State Senate President Jake Chapman of Adel in a close race. The two were paired in the same district after redistricting following the 2020 census.
The Democratic National Committee will decide in December whether Iowa will keep its status as the first contest in the party’s presidential primary.