Iowa Democrats at Wing Ding say abortion, school policy will help midterm chances

By: - August 12, 2022 10:51 pm

Michigan Sen. Mallory McMorrow gave the keynote speech at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake on Aug. 12, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — While election polls and predictions forecast Democrats losing ground in November’s midterms, Iowans at one of the party’s longstanding fundraising events said recent news has improved Democratic candidates’ chances.

Democratic candidates in Iowa’s upcoming midterm election spoke Friday night to a small crowd gathered for the 19th annual Iowa Democratic Wing Ding in Clear Lake. Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst asked Iowans — and national watchers — not to write off Iowa.

“We’re going to have a lot of surprises come November,” Konfrst said.

Recent polls and election forecasts show Republicans are favored to hold on to power in Iowa. The most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds ahead of  Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear by 17 percentage points. The poll also showed incumbent U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley leading his opponent, retired Navy admiral Michael Franken 47% to 39%.

Republicans also hold both chambers of the Statehouse, and three of Iowa’s four U.S. House seats. Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, has labeled Iowa’s 1st  and 2nd congressional district races – where Republican U.S. Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson seek re-election –  as “likely Republican,” and named U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne’s race against Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn as a “lean Republican.”

Michigan State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, this year’s Wing Ding’s keynote speaker, said she understands Iowa Democrats’ struggle. The state legislator rose to political fame in a viral speech in April where she defended herself from accusations of trying to “groom and sexualize kindergartners.”

McMorrow took her time in the national spotlight to fundraise for Michigan Democrats, raising more than $1 million from donors across the country. She flipped her seat representing Michigan’s 13th district in 2018 by appealing to voters who want an end to partisanship. She wants to flip Michigan’s Senate entirely, which has been GOP-controlled since 1984, by reaching those same voters.

Iowa Democrats can take back their federal seats and the state Legislature the same way, she said. With issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights and climate change on the line, McMorrow said Democrats can win big in places like Iowa and Michigan.

“They know there are more of us, the decent majority, then there are of them,” McMorrow said. “They need us to quit.”

Democrats face steep odds nationwide. Pundits predict a backlash at the ballot box to rising inflation, supply chain issues and high gas prices, which may lead to Democrats losing control in Washington and in state legislatures.

But Iowa Democrats said voters are weighing more than just economic problems when they decide who to vote for. Tracy Smith, a 70-year-old from Clear Lake, said abortion will be a deciding issue for many voters following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June. Kansas voters’ rejection of an abortion amendment last week proves this issue will make a difference come November, she said.

Protecting abortion access is especially urgent in Iowa, speakers said Friday. The state Supreme Court found in June that the Iowa Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion. This week, Reynolds asked a state judge to lift an injunction blocking the enforcement of Iowa’s so-called “fetal heartbeat” law.

“I’m hopeful for this election,” Smith said. “A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have said that. But now, we have so many people fired up because this is an issue we decided 50 years ago.”

Education will also be a deciding factor in the midterms, Democrats said. It’s already played a pivotal role in this year’s elections: Reynolds made endorsements in several Republican primaries this June, supporting candidates who backed her legislation to offer Iowa students taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private schools. A majority of those candidates won their primary races.

DeJear said Democrats must win to help fund Iowa public schools – but also to keep those schools safe. There have been three shootings in public spaces in Iowa this year as the country reckons with a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas where 19 students and two teachers were killed.

“The freedom for your kids to be able to go to school, and for you to not have to worry about their safety while they’re there, that’s on the ballot,” DeJear said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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