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The Elbert Files: Good news, bad news


I have good news and bad news for Iowa Democrats.

The good news is that the New York Times recently reported Democrats nationally are benefiting from the U.S. Supreme Court’s year-old Dobbs decision, which overturned the right to abortion that women had held for 50 years. 

The Times said a series of new national polls show that, after decades of little movement on abortion attitudes, the Dobbs decision upset the apple cart. 

“The biggest change was in political action around abortion, not necessarily in people’s core views,” according to the Times.

“While Republicans and those identifying as ‘pro-life’ have historically been most likely to see abortion as a litmus test, now they are less motivated by it, while Democrats and those identifying as ‘pro-choice’ are more so,” the Times said.  

When it comes to abortion, motivation has always been a problem for Democrats. Despite the fact that two-thirds of adults agree abortion should be legal in most or all cases, the issue failed to inspire increased turnout among liberals as it did for conservatives.  

The Times article suggests that is changing as the Dobbs decision fires up liberals and  demotivates conservatives.

The bad news for Iowa Democrats is that for a variety of reasons, including inept leadership, the liberal benefits cited in the Times may not have much impact in Iowa. 

Indeed, a pre-election Iowa Poll taken last October found movement in Iowa attitudes similar to what the Times found in more recent national polls.

The Des Moines Register reported in late October that Democrats “framed the election as a referendum on abortion rights.” 

“The vast majority of Democrats, 91%, and most independents, 66%, favor legal abortion,” the Register reported, suggesting that after the Dobbs decision Iowa Democrats and independents were more focused on abortion arguments than in the past.

Indeed, a separate Iowa Poll question found that abortion concerns were more likely to motivate pro-choice voters than had been the case in past elections.

But if abortion did motivate more Iowa voters in 2022, it clearly did not help Democrats. 

The 2022 midterm elections were one of the most successful for Republicans ever in Iowa; five of six statewide offices went to Republicans, as did all five congressional districts, 64 of 100 Iowa House seats and 34 of 50 Iowa Senate seats. 

That’s pretty much a clean sweep. Iowa Democrats hit a modern low in an election where Democrats in many states beat expectations.

Worse yet, there is little evidence Iowa Democrats learned anything from the election. 

During this year’s legislative session, Republican supermajorities steamrolled the Statehouse, passing educational, health care and human rights rollbacks that were unimaginable even two years ago. 

There was also a massive reorganization of state government by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. The changes give her previously unimagined power over what had been independent judicial, financial and educational arms of state government. 

When Democrats in the Legislature did make news, it was for inconsequential issues, like trying to legalize marijuana. 

Also, after the session, Democrats in the Senate failed to reorganize their own staff. As a result of that effort, Zach Wahls, who had been viewed as an up-and-coming Democrat, lost his position as Senate minority leader. 

That’s unfortunate because Wahls was one of the few Democrats in the Legislature who could make a difference. He wanted Democrats to focus on constituent services and tell stories that benefited the party; for example, how Democrats nationally helped keep Iowa’s economy afloat during COVID and are now providing much needed money to bring broadband to rural areas and rebuild infrastructure. 

Democrats in 2024 need to make it clear how Republican overreach this year will hurt Iowans; how it will weaken public schools while placing new restrictions on what can be taught; how it will eliminate health care options.

But mainly they need to say how they will help Iowa workers and families. 

Oh, and there is still the abortion issue, which lawmakers will have to deal with at least one more time before the 2024 election.


Dave Elbert

Dave Elbert is a columnist for Business Record.

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