2024 Horse Race is off and Running Past too Many Voters

Biden and Trump

This past Monday night as I was watching MSNBC hyped up coverage of the Iowa Republican caucus and Steve Kornaki offering a county by county breakdown of how former President Donald Trump had carried the day with around 56,000 votes, not even ten percent of the state’s 752,000 registered Republicans, I flashed back to another GOP primary night here in New Jersey almost twenty years ago.

Pre-pandemic, before the Jan. 6 Insurrection and the simmering mean spirited dysfunction that’s held our country hostage since.

It was the GOP Primary night in 2005 for Governor and Kornaki, then working for Dave Wildstein’s  PoliticsNJ.com and I, then working for WNYC, were trying to time our exit from former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler’s election night reception in time to get to Doug Forrester’s victory celebration at the Forestal Center in Plainsboro. I was driving and it’s my recollection that we made it there before Forrester’s victory speech.

It was a crowded race to run against then U.S. Senator Jon Corzine that motivated over 300,000 Republicans voters to turn out, well over a third of the registered Republicans in the state at the time. That was well over three times the turnout rate of the Iowa GOP presidential primary MSNBC’s sold as a major bellwether with the drum roll and flourish.

During the wall-to-wall Iowa Caucus coverage, MSNBC’s panel of pundits fixated on the tiny sliver of the white evangelical electorate that turned out for Trump to the exclusion of the rest of the state giving tremendous weight and consequence to the MAGA acolytes.

“If you want to understand where the race is going you need to understand Iowa,” the network announcer proclaimed. What I heard was the inside the beltway horse race and the imminent threat to the American republic posed by Donald Trump. What I didn’t hear was anything about the actual economic conditions of the folks living in Iowa because the coverage was framed entirely around the candidates and their stances on Trump.

And such a close up reporting wouldn’t necessarily be flattering for the incumbent in the White House but would inform a more robust debate.

Did you know that according to the United Way of Iowa’s ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained but Employed) Report 37 percent of Iowa’s households live below poverty or struggle week to week to cover the basics? That’s a half-million households.  In some of the 99 counties that misery index runs as high as 47 percent of the population. In 21 of the state’s 99 counties over 40 percent are struggling.

“We all know people who are ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — earning more than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford the basics where they live. ALICE workers were celebrated as essential heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they do not earn enough to support their own families,” reports United Way of Iowa.

Of that close to half-million that are having a tough time, 90,000 are white families living below the poverty line when another 300,713 white households in that ALICE cohort  can’t  get ahead. For Black families, it’s even more skewed to hardship, with over 24,600 families struggling as opposed to close to 16,000 Black households the United Way reports are comfortable.

The state’s network of food banks continues to set “new records” for “the number of Iowans facing food insecurity” a data point that “continues to climb at an alarming rate,” according to Food Bank of Iowa CEO Michelle Book. “As the pandemic lessened in 2022, food insecurity increased. Today, 36 percent of hardworking Iowa families and many folks living on fixed incomes do not make enough money to cover the cost of basic needs. This is a social injustice we can no longer ignore.”

“In November, the food bank distributed a record 2.15 million pounds of food, topping the previous record set in October of 202 during the height of the pandemic,” reported the Food Bank of Iowa. Every month, more than 191,000 people, 42 percent of whom are children, rely on the Food Bank.

These on the ground realities are certainly at odds with the notion that Bidenomics has restored prosperity to middle America, an assertion  that’s based entirely on aggregate data points like the growth in the Gross Domestic Product.  There’s only one problem, nobody lives or votes in the aggregate and horse race coverage obscures this essential granularity.

Iowa is one of 20 state’s that sets in minimum wage to the federal level which remains a miserly $7.25, where it’s been stuck since 2009 because corporatist Democrats led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) opposed raising it to $15 betraying millions of low wealth and low wage Americans. It was this faction that backed billions in infrastructure funding but sank President Biden’s domestic agenda that not only included a living wage, universal pre-K 4, childcare but the permanent extension of the Expanded Child Tax Credit.

Consider that even before the pandemic was formally declared over, the federal government had already rolled back the expansion of the Earned Income Child Tax Credit, sending millions of children back into poverty. The Biden administration’s decision to “unwind” Medicaid, the subsidized healthcare coverage for the poor, resulted in over 8 .4 million people losing coverage, including 3.39 million children. Iowa culled their roles by 129,000, a 16 percent cut, according to a 50 state analysis by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

Early in MSNBC’s Iowa Caucus night coverage, former Vermont Governor Howard Dead validated the Democratic Party’s decision as “wise” to write off the state by scrubbing their caucus that would have been the first such contest for the incumbent President Joe Biden.

“Iowa has changed—I was shocked—I don’t know what’s happened in Iowa, said Dean a former Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. Dean went on to say that Iowa had become less representative of the rest of the United States and seem to be conceding it, which was ironic since it was Dean that as chair of the DNC articulated the “50 state strategy” for the Democrats.

While it is true that Trump won Iowa in 2020 with over 53 percent, two percentages higher than his 2016 win over former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Democrats have prevailed there in living memory.  In 2008 and 2012 the state voted for President Obama in the presidential election, yet in 2016 it flipped for Trump.  In fact, of the 201 counties that flipped from Obama to Trump, 31 of them were in Iowa, the most of any state in the nation.

No doubt the stakes are extraordinarily high in 2024. Democrats need now more than ever to be pursuing a 50 state strategy particularly with control of the House of Representatives  hanging by just a few seats and the current Speaker a leading proponent of Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election. Consider that in 2022, Democrats lost a House seat in Iowa’s 3rd district when Rep. Cindy Axne lost her seat by just 2,000 votes.

Over 38 percent of voters in Iowa are from low wealth and low wage households, according to Rev. Dr. William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign. Yet, in 2016, according to a Columbia University analysis just 46 percent of low income voters cast a ballot, well below the participation rate for wealthier voters.

In interviews with people from the non-voting cohort researchers heard from survey participants that they didn’t engage in the 2016 election because the candidates were not addressing the issues that they were concerned about.

“There are 85 million poor and low-income people who are eligible to vote in this country,” according to the Poor People’s Campaign. “Together, we account for one third of the electorate.”

Yet, as we wade into 2024, the media is making the election all about Trump and Biden and not the lived circumstances of the American people in places like Appanoose County, Iowa where 47 percent are scrambling to cover the basics. Shouldn’t a national presidential election be addressing their issues?

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2 responses to “2024 Horse Race is off and Running Past too Many Voters”

  1. When I was a oung person my family lived in Des Moines. I remember my school as being almost 100% white. There were a few Jews & a few more Roman Castholics. When I moved to Roosevelt H.S. the Roman Catholics went to the catholic H.S. It was very white, protestant, self-segregated.

  2. The author of this commentary piece must be locked in the basement with Joe Biden. Hasn’t he seen the reason people are coming out in droves in frigid weather to vote for Donald Trump. Hey Bob Hennelly: It’s the economy, stupid! It’s the unsecured border creating a national security crisis, stupid! It’s the 4 wars we have going in the Mideast and Ukraine and Red China’s sabre-rattling, stupid! It’s the threat of nuclear catastrophe by Putin, Xi, and North Korea’s Pot-belly pig, stupid!

    Hey Bob, have you seen the polls for how many Hispanics are switching their votes to Trump ????Almost 50%. How many blacks switching their votes to Trump, especially black men???? Almost 30% (22% is the red-line in the sand). How many Democrats are switching to vote Republican???? Hey Bob, where have you been? At Davos with the WEF spouting how they’re going to be the Masters of the Universe to take over the world with some new pandemic disease “X”?????

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