In Iowa, Politics is a Way of Life

Ben Sheridan Image
Ben Sheridan
on November 7, 2016

J Street’s blog aims to reflect a range of voices. The opinions expressed in blog posts do not necessarily reflect the policies or view of J Street.  

From the flight’s final approach, Iowa appears calm and quiet, but campaigns on the ground have been hustling for months towards the 2016 election’s November 8th finish line. Decision day is almost upon us, and volunteers and activists, many of whom have poured in from all corners of the United States, are joined by embedded Capitol Hill staffers to knock out walk packets and dial through call lists in an effort to turn out voters across the state. J Street embedded staff arrived in Cedar Falls on Tuesday, November 1st, at JStreetPAC endorsee Monica Vernon’s local field office to join the fight.

The eyes of an entire nation are fixed on a select few swing states that will determine the outcome of this country’s most consequential election in generations. Iowa stands among them, and to help propel local candidates through the finish line, a high-caliber list of surrogates has been pouring in and out of the state for weeks.

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Just this Wednesday, President Bill Clinton stumped for Democrats at a Waterloo Art Museum, and on Friday afternoon, a packed student union at University of Northern Iowa greeted Senator Bernie Sanders for a Clinton campaign stop. These are only the latest actors in what’s been an endless barrage of political and pop culture celebrities who have made stops in the state for both Republicans and Democrats, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and Sean Astin (Mikey from the Goonies for those born in the 1980’s, Rudy for us 1990’s kids or Frodo’s companion Samwise Gange for the millennials reading this).

Local volunteers remind me that Iowans are pragmatists. Candidates won’t win votes with platitudes and empty mantras. “It’s not politics, it’s personal” wouldn’t fly here. A group of elderly women, friends from church, assembling clipboards in the back of the Iowa Democratic Party’s Cedar Rapid’s office for Saturday’s labor union members canvass agree, remembering names is important. Former Governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, they decide, is unmatched at this skill, though one also quips, “Hillary has improved.”

This same approach to politics has JStreetPAC endorsee Monica Vernon positioned to win one of the most competitive races in the country.

Vernon will be a champion in Congress on a wide range of issues, including diplomacy-first Middle East foreign policy. Her opponent, Rep. Rod Blum, voted against the historic Iran nuclear deal. Ads are inundating the airwaves attacking Vernon for supporting the agreement that defanged the Iranian nuclear threat. Blum’s opposition to the deal is consistent with a pro-Trump platform that opposes women’s rights and denies climate change.

Vernon’s credentials are deeply rooted in her service to the community; she helped rebuild downtown Cedar Rapids as a City Councilwoman after devastating flooding in 2008, led the charge to build the first homeless shelter for women and children in the city and opened a small business and raised her three daughters in Cedar Rapids. Going to Congress would be a natural next step for Vernon, who has poured her heart and soul into this community, improving people’s lives at every turn.

Politics is a way of life in The Hawkeye State, and while Iowans take their civic duty seriously, there is also a level of despair after the months of relentless campaign ads, barnstorming, and calls from volunteers at local field offices. On Thursday, one Cedar Falls coffee shop measured the misery this year with a mounted chalkboard reminding patrons that there are “Only 6 more days of political commercials.”

There are light moments too. Amid, the political drama playing out in Iowa, people of all backgrounds suspended their partisanship to come together to watch the Cubs’ historic Game Seven World Series win. The next morning, though, the campaign was back in full gear.

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