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Live or die election for Democrats

BY MATT HEINZE | OCTOBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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If the Democratic Party wishes to remain a viable entity in Iowa politics, this November's election becomes a very real endgame scenario.

Eastern Iowa plays host to a special election for the newly vacated seat previously held by Swati Dandekar, D-Marion. For Iowa Democrats, the implications of this election could not be greater.

With Republicans holding a majority in the House and firmly at the helm of the governorship, Democrats have relied heavily on the Senate to maintain power in the Iowa legislative process. The near-even split of the Senate has prevented Democrats from being swept up in a wave of Republican-proposed measures. And Sen. Mike Gronstall, D-Council Bluffs, as Senate majority leader has halted anti-gay marriage legislation that would otherwise have likely passed and earned the governor's signature.

If they lose Dandekar's seat in November, that uneasy balance may be lost for good.

If there's one thing that's become clear, it's the fact that Democrats have failed to resonate with voters during a time in which their platform should be more appealing than ever. During the current economic crisis, the Democratic Party has had scores of opportunities to work toward a common agenda but has failed to act in nearly every regard.

The fate of a host of progressive issues, most specifically gay marriage, hangs in the balance of this contest. The showdown itself is expected to be truly massive, with experts suggesting each party will spend upwards of $250,000 in the course of only a few short months for the seat. After all, in addition to serving party agendas, this election presents itself as a tremendous barometer for Democratic support heading into next year's political shenanigans.

But this lack of success isn't because Democrats are misinformed or because of some notion of liberal elitism. It's not a rejection of progressive thinking, either. Rather, Democrats have failed to decisively resonate with certain factions of the general populace.

Case in point: the American working class. Republicans continue to attack labor unions at a time of unprecedented downturn. Yet, by framing politics strictly with social issues and continually demonizing "progressives," they have managed to retain a great number of lower- and middle-class voters.

With approval ratings for President Obama eerily reminiscent of the days of President George W. Bush, Democrats have set themselves up to fail at both the national and state levels next year. Repeatedly, they have punished themselves with minimal gains and failed opportunities, while also failing to provide an answer to the conservative budget challenge. Party infighting rendered enormous gains worthless within only a few short years.

If the Democrats wish to remain a formidable force in Iowa politics, they must ask themselves why they have for so long lacked appeal, and they must address this before November. Their focus needs to be on reconnecting with the average American and pushing for their constituents' support by fighting to raise taxes on the wealthy.

While Republicans have their own set of problems, they are undoubtedly well-armed in their political ideology and organization. Although the Tea Party fractured the GOP establishment to a certain degree, Republicans have done a heroic job of stitching themselves up before our political system goes batty for the presidential primaries.

So, as it would seem, the writing is on the wall: If Democrats fail to recoup their losses this November, monumental changes will be in store for Iowa. A new crisis for the Obama era, this election cycle is indeed one of the most critical moments in the modern Democratic Party's history in the state.

Democrats would be wise to place all their eggs in this November's ballot-basket.


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