Capital Clicks

Iowa governor’s race: Party chair responds to Smith fundraising concerns

By: - January 6, 2022 8:28 pm

State Rep. Ross Wilburn of Ames is also chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Ross Wilburn expects a “strong slate” of Democratic candidates this year, he said, despite the departure of Rep. Ras Smith from the gubernatorial race due to fundraising challenges.

“I was the first Black Democratic candidate for governor to get on the ballot in Iowa,” Wilburn said. “I understand the challenges that Ras faced. For any statewide candidate, it’s a tough haul.”

Smith, a Waterloo Democrat, announced Wednesday that he would end his seven-month campaign to challenge Gov. Kim Reynolds. Smith said he struggled to get financial support from Democratic donors, despite finding support among citizens.

“I never expected to be given as equal a shot as my white counterparts. Because that’s reality. I’ve been a Black man in Iowa my entire life,” Smith wrote in a December column for Bleeding Heartland. “What I didn’t expect was to be treated as insignificant by the donor class of my own party. After months of phone calls, letters, repeated outreach, to not receive a call back or be given an opportunity to meet has felt disrespectful.”

Following Smith’s campaign termination on Wednesday, he told multiple outlets that fundraising was the primary issue preventing him from running.

“We have to look at and be self-reflective about not just our party, but our political structure as it exists, because you have a pay-to-play system,” Smith told Waterloo station KWWL.

Reporters asked Wilburn on Thursday whether Democratic donors were open to funding newer candidates, like Smith. Wilburn again acknowledged the challenges of running a statewide race.

“There’s a lot of generous donors out there, and as I’ve done fundraising calls for the party, I speak about all of the candidates that we have,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn said he had yet to debrief with Smith, following his departure from the gubernatorial race.

Smith’s exit leaves one well-known Democrat in the race against Reynolds: Deidre DeJear, a former secretary of state candidate. Wilburn praised DeJear on Thursday, calling her “a strong candidate.”

“As I’ve been going around talking both to donors but also to our county chairs, they’re excited about her candidacy,” he said.

Smith warned Democrats they don’t have a chance until donors get on board.

“No candidate for governor has been empowered to build the infrastructure necessary to beat Kim Reynolds, and a lot of that is due to our own folks not investing,” Smith told Iowa Starting Line. “And so until that happens, we got our work ahead of us.”

Register polls show majority of Iowans approve of Reynolds

The latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found Reynolds had significant support among Iowans. The November poll showed 51% of Iowans approve of Reynolds’s performance in office. Respondents were most supportive of how she handled the economy – 56% – followed by her policies on COVID-19 and schools – 52% each.

The September Iowa Poll found that most Iowans did not have an opinion yet about Smith or DeJear.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.