Friday, November 06, 2015

Core Four Win Feels Like Loebsack's Breakthrough

After a couple days of resting and catching up on caucus details (more of the second than the first) I realized what election Tuesday's Iowa City shocking Core Four sweep reminds me of the most:
Dave Loebsack in 2006.

It's got the unexpected underdog upset. The same decades long struggle, the multiple cycles every two years, alternating between serious contenders and Some Dudes, the few times when victory slipped out of our fingers.

It's got the underfunded outsider defeating money and power (though Jim Leach personally showed a very commendable restraint). The two new candidates of the Core Four, John Thomas and Pauline Taylor, raised far less money than the corresponding first timers on the unnamed other side, Tim Conroy and Scott McDonough.

Both cycles have winners with deep roots and much love within the local Democratic Party. Loebsack was both a key organizer of Linn County's Phoenix Club, the county party's fundraising arm, and a worker bee who was one of MY volunteers in 1992, my one cycle as a staffer, knocking doors in Mt. Vernon. Pauline Taylor has long been a workhorse activist in the Johnson County Democrats, and was one of the key organizers of SEIU's successful drive tor organize the UIHC nurses in 1998.

The winners benefited from branding. "Core Four" was a label that worked, despite the other side denouncing "slates" even as they endorsed the opposite four candidates. And in 2006, the label "Republican" was toxic enough to drag down even a genuinely decent guy like Jim Leach, and "Democrat" after your name was magic. In this cycle, Conroy and McDonough played the role of good guys dragged down by unfortunate allies, with Rick Dobyns and Michelle Payne cast as Cheney and Rumsfeld, and lame duck Matt Hayek repudiated as clearly as lame duck George W. Bush was.

Hey, we even had a delay in Johnson County absentee results, the only two times it's ever happened, though on Tuesday it was just 15 minutes, not the interminable four hours of 2006, and it was only because two ballots showed up at the last minute and not because the results had been erased.

And despite the shock of the win, it doesn't feel like a fluke. It feels like the future.

I've said many, many times that the fluke was not Loebsack's win, it was Leach's survival, and Loebsack has confirmed that in becoming one of the few survivors of that Class of 2006.  In 2015, the real fluke is not that the Core Four won; the fluke is that conservatives have governed the most progressive city in the state for decades.

And it feels like, now that the breakthrough has finally happened, things are never going to be quite the same again.

On election night I wrote that the Iowa City establishment had lost its eternal scare tactic, their fear-mongering and red-baiting that the crazies would ruin the city if given a chance.

Along with that, the cycles of near-left liberals accepting moderates as The Best We Can Do, the way a quarter of Johnson County Democrats used to vote for Leach, are over, now that we know we can get the real thing. (Apply this to the presidential contest if you want?) Some endorsements, or lack of endorsements, will look regrettable in retrospect.

This doesn't quite fit in with my 2015 as 2006 analogy, but it's worth noting: In 2014, we saw Johnson County counter-trending, holding its ground or even inching leftward even as the rest of the state was lurching right. Outperforming every other county in the state by 13 to 15 points, race by race. Saving the State Senate for the Democrats by gaining (gaining! In 2014!) an open Republican seat. Voting for Governor Hatch just as we had voted for Senator Conlin, all by ourselves.

After the 2014 election, I wrote:
Joni Ernst's folksy style that was successful almost everywhere else was met with visceral distaste and disbelief here."The Pig Lady can't possibly WIN, can she?" The rest of the state looks in the mirror and sees Ernst; we look in the mirror and see Dave Loebsack.
I sometimes phrased that in conversation as: "Iowa City looks in the mirror and sees a former college professor with a beard."

Which, when you look at our new mayor, seems about right.

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