Ryan Marquardt, a Democrat who recently failed to win a seat to represent Warren County in the Iowa House, told a crowd gathered at the Reaching Rural Voters Forum in Stuart Saturday morning he tried to distance himself from the Democratic Party during his last election.

“We try to minimize the 'D' next to our name,” Marquardt said about rural Iowa Democrats.

Marquardt wasn't the only politician at the forum worried about the state of the party in rural Iowa.

John Norris, a seasoned Democrat who most recently ran a failing gubernatorial bid, explained why Iowa Democrats like Marquardt may be wary of their own party.

“We went from winning an average of 60 counties for Democrats in major straight-line races to less than 10 in the last four election cycles,” Norris said. He explained when he helped Tom Harkin win his U.S. Senate seat in 1984, Harkin turned 73 Iowa counties blue. Thirty years later, Democrat Bruce Braley, who was running for an open governor’s seat, won 14 counties.

In between those two races, Chet Culver won 63 counties in 2006. Then, in 2008, Barack Obama won 54 counties. Bruce Braley managed to win 42 counties in 2014.

Aside from that, Chet Culver only captured 9 counties in 2000; Hillary Clinton grabbed 6 counties in 2016 and Fred Hubbell took 11 counties in 2018.

“If you can’t recognize those numbers and the impact on many state-wide races – as a state-wide candidate and the consultants who advise these candidates – you should not be running,” Norris said. “You have to address it. And it’s not that hard to address.”

Along with Norris and Marquardt, the day’s speakers included a long a list of familiar Democrats. They were:

  • Warren Varley, who lost a bid to Ray Sorensen for Iowa House District 20, which serves parts of Guthrie, Cass and Adair counties.
  • Denise O'Brien, who lost a bid to Tom Moore for Iowa House District 21, which serves parts of Pottawattamie, Cass and Adams Counties.
  • James Uhlenkamp, who lost a bid to Cecil Dolecheck for Iowa House District 24, which serves Page, Taylor and Ringgold counties, along with parts of Montgomery county.
  • Chuck Larson, who lost a bid to David Sieck for Iowa House District 23, which serves Mills and Fremont Counties and parts of Montgomery county.

Varley summed up some of the things rural Iowans are seeing.

“People regardless of parties are feeling throughout rural Iowa the population decline,” Varley said. “We’re seeing poverty increase, we’re getting older, it’s harder to man our community groups...

“This is something we can talk about,” Varley said. "Something we need to address.”

Three presidential candidates, Andrew Yang, Eric Swalwell and Tulsi Gabbard tried their best to explain the ways they'd help rural Iowa should they be elected next November.

“Amazon is like a giant suction cup or black hole sucking up $20 billion in business every year,” Yang told the crowd. “It’s causing 30 percent of malls and stores here in Iowa and around the country to close.

“The average worker there is a 39-year-old woman making between $10 to $11 an hour,” he continued. “When her store closes, what is her next opportunity going to be?”

Yang asked the crowd how much the giant online retailer paid in taxes last year. Audience members shouted “$0.”

With the rise of robots, Yang predicted truck drivers and retailers will soon meet the fate of manufacturers in the coming years.

“If anyone says they’re going to magically retrain hundreds of thousands of truck drivers or call center workers or manufacturing workers, they’re not being honest,” Yang said. “They’re just being lazy.”

Yang, a philanthropist and entrepreneur from New York City, then proposed his plan to give Americans a $1,000 monthly dividend, which he said Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as guaranteed income.

Later, Swalwell proposed several other ways he’d reinvigorate the middle class.

His plans include supporting a universal healthcare system, creating a plan to offer debt-free college education for any American who’s willing to complete community service hours or move to “economically depressed” rural areas and to invest federal infrastructure dollars in schools. Swalwell promised he’d make school funding a federal issue and that he would put “modern schools in every community.”

Gabbard told the crowd gathered at the three-hour long forum she’d improve their lives by fighting the status quo in D.C.

“Those who are working in Washington are so far disconnected from the realty and challenges and concerns that we face in our every day lives,” Gabbard said. “Instead what we see unfortunately in Washington is we have leaders who instead of listening to the people are listening to the very rich and powerful in Washington, listening to the well-paid special interests and lobbyists.”

She said those leaders aren’t worried about the local farmers who are concerned with farming sustainably and reducing the impact pollutants have on the air, soil and water.

“They continue to go to the multi-national big-ag corporations who basically run a monopoly of our agriculture system, oppressing and leaving behind the small farmers who have been farming for generation,” Gabbard said. “And we see not only how this is impacting the families, it’s impacting our waters, it’s impacting our air, it’s ruining our top soil.

“It’s taking away our ability to farm these lands for generations to come,” Gabbard continued. “We see these policies impacting us in every single parts of our lives.”

*This story was corrected to accurately reflect who represents District 21 in the Iowa House. Tom Moore currently serves as the representative for District 21.