What do Democrats stand for?

That question dogged Democrats in November. And it's still a foundational problem as Democrats start eyeing Iowa's gubernatorial race in 2018.

Coming as a surprise to no one, former state Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire announced her intention to challenge soon-to-be Gov. Kim Reynolds or whoever bests her in the GOP primary.

Agree with Iowa Republican Party politics or not, Iowa GOP has a clear vision. Lower taxes, loosened regulation and a smattering of policies that keep happy the GOP's often sparring religious and libertarian wings. 

Then, we have McGuire, who offered the following in her Monday morning announcement.

“For too long, those in power seem to only get things done for the special interests — behind closed doors. It’s a broken political system that works for them — not us,” she said.

Sound familiar? It should.

November made one thing certain: Democrats are not the party of working families. 

To be fair, McGuire targets a few specifics, well-worn bullet points cribbed from the party's national platform -- namely funding for public education and hiking the minimum wage. But those are gimmes. The rest is but a smattering of "putting working families first" and "ending back-room political deals."

This is, in a very real sense, the same rhetorical game that doomed Hillary Clinton in last year's presidential cycle. Sure, Clinton had a long record from which any keen observer could draw to understand her politics. But, for the most part, voters are not close watchers of policy. Clinton's campaign, eventually, devolved into "I'm not that guy." 

It wasn't the most inspiring platform. Nor did it work.

McGuire, a stalwart Clinton supporter, has already made the same mistake. Clinton wrongly hoped distaste for Donald Trump would be enough for victory. At this early stage, McGuire looks intent on hoping for an anti-Trump backlash in the midterm, should she be the nominee. 

There are a lot of fronts on which to take on Iowa GOP. The state's flagging tax revenue is a good one. Education funding is predicated on tax revenue. And, it's possible to argue that years' worth of giveaways to one special interest or another is the root cause of the sudden cash shortage.

Iowa Medicaid isn't exactly healthy. Its water quality has much to be desired. Democrats decry these shortcomings, but too often fail to offer workable funding or policy solutions. 

To argue that Republicans alone convene "back-room" deals is ridiculous. One must only across the Mississippi to Illinois to witness just how married the Democratic machine is to its "special interests." Unions on the left. Corporations on the right. Everyone else -- a growing segment of the population, as unions founder -- is left picking up the tab.

At some point, Democrats have to ditch the reactionary posture. For years, Republicans have dictated the narrative. Democrats typically find themselves on the defensive. 

Whining isn't doing it, especially in the Heartland. 

Pat Rynard, a columnist at the liberal blog Iowa Starting Line called out McGuire's less than appealing prospects back in November.

"Still, a McGuire run for governor in 2018 would be extremely difficult, if not plain impossible, both in the primary and the general election," he wrote. "Her profile is simply not the right fit to address Democrats’ electoral problems in Iowa."

McGuire was widely credited for righting the finances at Iowa Democratic headquarters. But she also oversaw a statewide shift from Iowa the purple to Iowa the red. Only one of the state's four congressional districts remains in Democratic control, Dave Loebsack's 2nd Congressional, which includes Scott County. Sen. Joni Ernst wrestled away a blue seat in the Senate in 2014 by a wide margin. 

Scott County, by history and demographics, should be solid Democratic territory. But, particularly in partisan local elections, the county's GOP have rolled out superior candidates. Scott County Republicans have a deep bench, who can talk policy and know the budget. The county's Democrats just didn't measure up last year.

The former face of Iowa's Democratic machine is running for governor. And, like so many before her, it's not exactly clear what she actually stands for.

Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at jalexander@qctimes.com


Editorial Page Editor, Quad-City Times