Democrats strategize for midterms at convention in 1st District

Democrats came out to elect party officers and discuss platform items. Democratic candidates were in attendance to speak with voters and rally support for the party.


Grace Smith

Iowa Senate candidate Janice Weiner speaks with granddaughter Alaska Latham during the 2022 First District Democratic Convention at Liberty High School in North Liberty, Iowa, on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Regarding her goals, Weiner said, “I am really focused now on coming up with ideas of what we can meet, what we need to do, what’s possible,” she said, “and for the bigger picture what we must do for this state going forward.”

Natalie Dunlap, Politics Editor

If organizers have conversations with those close to them every week about upcoming elections, Democrats could flip seats and gain more power in the state than they would by knocking on the doors of thousands of strangers, said Sandy Dockendorff, Iowa First District Central Committee chair. 

“If every person in this room, every week talked to three people that you know that understand that you’re interested in this stuff, people that you help to educate on the issues — on the points of view that you have — if you can have those real conversation with three people every week between now and the elections we will win elections, we never thought were possible,” she said.

Dockendorff addressed attendants at the First District Democratic Convention in the auditorium of Liberty High School on Saturday. She said that, in the newly drawn 1st Congressional District, there are 44 candidates running for state or federal elected offices. 

Democrats came out to elect party officers and discuss platform items. Democratic candidates were in attendance to speak with voters and rally support for the party, including Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer. 

In introducing Finkenauer, Johnson County Party Chair Ed Cranston said it’s critical not only that Democrats keep the U.S. Senate majority, but that Iowans send a Democrat to the Senate. 

Finkenauer represented northeast Iowa in the U.S. Congress for one term, before losing reelection to Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson in 2020. Following that election, Finkenauer said she swore off running for public office, but the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021 changed her mind. 

Finkenauer, who is running to replace long-time Republican incumbent Sen. Chuck Grassley, is advocating for term limits. Finkenauer said in his decades in Washington, Grassley has left Iowans behind, and critiqued other Democrats as having forgot their background as well, citing Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-VA. 

“I think it is incredibly important and for the functioning of our country and for democracy, that will lead to people who are close to their constituents who are living in the communities that they are fighting to represent and that we make sure that people are connected again,” Finkenauer said. “So vow right now and across the state — two terms that’s it, that’s all I ask because quite frankly, I don’t need 47 years to get the job done.”

RELATED: Grassley talks economy and infrastructure during Iowa City visit

In Iowa, Republicans control the state House, Senate, and gubernatorial office. The GOP also holds both Iowa Senate seats and all but one Congressional seat.

“The Republicans have shown that they’re not competent to govern in many ways, because right now they’re past the end of the when there should have been signing day,” said Janice Weiner, former Iowa City City Councilor and candidate running to replace retiring Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom. “They control all the levers of power, and they haven’t managed in private behind closed doors to pass a budget with our tax dollars. So, to me, that’s not good governance, and it’s not acceptable.” 

State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, is running to represent the 1st Congressional District, challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Miller-Meeks won her seat by six votes against Democrat Rita Hart in the race for the seat left open by former Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack.

Bohannan did not attend the convention in person because she was campaigning with Loebsack in Lee County on Saturday. 

“I’m running because I want to be the kind of great representative that Dave Loebsack was,” Bohannan said in a prerecorded message to attendees. “He put the people of this district first, he fought for things like education, healthcare, the rights of working people and good wages, good jobs, for Southeast Iowa.”

The convention also served as a forum to discuss party platforms. 

John Deeth, data manager with the Johnson County Democrats, said he would advocate for a presidential primary in the state, rather than a caucus. He used to manage the Johnson County Democrat’s caucus and said he recently left that job because he felt like “an enabler” of what he called a poor system. 

“We don’t have the rooms, we don’t have the volunteers, we don’t have the people to run it anymore,” he said. “We’re the party of voting rights and it should be easy to vote and the caucuses are not easy to vote. So that’s a big fight, because a lot of the leadership with the state party is really, really committed to keeping first and they think changing to a primary is going to risk that.”

The Democratic National Committee recently passed a proposal stripping the four early states, including Iowa, of their special status in the presidential election process. Under the proposal, states will be required to apply to hold their nominating contests before the first Tuesday in March. 

Deeth said that, if a primary isn’t possible, Democrats need to change the caucus to be more accessible by including an absentee or early voting process.