DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Democrats looking for a prescription for recovery from a decade in decline got encouragement Saturday from emerging national party figures urging more focus on working-class and rural America, where Donald Trump marched to victory last year.
After sending progressive Tom Harkin to the Senate for 30 years and twice delivering the state for Barack Obama, Iowa Democrats are powerless in the House, Senate and statehouse, and remain stunned by Trump's solid victory in the state last year.
While it's a familiar scenario across the upper Midwest, the pressure on state Democrats to recoup the working-class voters who marched with Trump is more intense: They're charged with setting the tone in a little more than two years for the party's presidential nomination.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Nancy Pelosi for House Democratic leader in December, has ideas for Iowa, his own state and elsewhere.
Ryan and two other House Democrats — Illinois' Cheri Bustos and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts — were in Des Moines on Saturday for a Democratic fundraiser. Ryan blamed Democrats for allowing Trump to claim voters in Democratic territory by ignoring them.
"They don't think we're with them anymore," Ryan, from working-class Warren, Ohio, told hundreds at a downtown Des Moines park. "We lost them, and we lost them to Trump. And while I'm mad at Republicans. I'm just as mad at us. We didn't see them. We didn't listen to them."
Just as Iowa Democrats are starting from scratch, the little-known Democrats surveying Iowa are a sign the national party, too, is starting at square one in its search for its next standard-bearer after consecutive, star-studded presidential campaigns.
It wasn't long ago Iowa Democrats were sitting at a 40-year high.
Just seven years ago, Democrats controlled both state legislative chambers and had occupied the governor's office for 12 years. The party held three of five House seats, while Harkin was Obama's right hand in the push for the health care law.
But economic blowback from a national financial collapse, a poorly handled state budget crisis and the widespread revolt by grassroots conservatives against the Affordable Care Act created an angry backlash in 2010 against Democrats, especially in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.
Nationally, Democrats have lost more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures, governors' offices and Congress in the past decade.
Iowa was also undergoing a rapid, politically consequential demographic shift. Iowa ranks in the top 10 of states with the highest population of whites and in the top 15 of those 65 years and older. According to U.S. Census data, both groups — two pillars of Trump's win statewide and nationally — increased simultaneously after 2010 and became a bigger percentage of Iowa's electorate.
"We've lost touch with certain voters," state party chairman Troy Price said. "We talk about issues, but not the values behind the issues. We haven't done the best job communicating with the people we fight so hard for. It's why we are where we are."
Bustos, who represents a western Illinois district Trump carried, said Democrats had lost touch with small-town America, a point that echoes in Iowa where the party has lost its once robust rural presence.
"The heartland is far from Trump country, and the road to a successful Democratic Party runs right through the heartland," she told the party activists.