“This whole election is so volatile, and so many people dislike Clinton that it could go that way. I mean, Trump could win.” — Ed Fallon on August 25, 2016
That’s my quote in a Bleeding Heartland story published nearly two years ago, when almost no one thought Donald Trump could prevail against Hillary Clinton’s juggernaut. Sadly, many Iowa Democrats learned nothing from that election. Now many Democrats are lining up behind Fred Hubbell — the one candidate who could lose to Kim Reynolds in November, despite Reynolds’ extreme vulnerability.
Democrats must have missed 2016’s most teachable moment: failing to notice that the candidate tagged as “status quo” (whether true or false) loses.
The Trump-Clinton election shouldn’t have been needed for Democrats to learn this lesson. Remember John Kerry? Bruce Braley? If you come off as the elite candidate you lose — even against a draft dodger like George W. Bush or an unknown state senator like Joni Ernst. Perception trumps reality.
Unfortunately, with Fred Hubbell, perception is reality. There is no way Fred can hide his upper-crust credentials.
Personally, I like Fred. I’ve known him and his wife, Charlotte, since the 1980s. They’ve been financially supportive of my work and once hosted a house party for a nonprofit I directed. I feel bad that I have to say these things.
But the importance of this election compels me to speak bluntly and truthfully to Iowa Democrats. If you nominate Hubbell on June 5, our prospects for defeating Reynolds are greatly diminished.
I see the barrage of ads touting Reynolds’ humble background — growing up on a farm, her dad taking a second job at a factory to make ends meet, working at a grocery store and later as a waitress. That stuff resonates with Iowans. Voters will have a hard time relating to someone as wealthy and privileged as Fred Hubbell, who himself finds it difficult to identify with the challenges most Iowans face.
Case in point is this quote from a May 23, 2018 Des Moines Register story, where Fred talks about organizing a trip to Mount Kilimanjaro for 12 family members: “We walked by the glaciers. We were on top of Africa. That’s the highest point in Africa, so the clouds are below you. … It was a good family experience. It brings people together, and I don’t think it’s something that even our young kids, the nieces and nephews, are ever going to forget.”
Whoa! What does a trip like that cost? I did a little research and it was probably over $100,000. The family vacation most Iowans remember is when the folks piled everyone and the dog into the station wagon and drove to Mount Rushmore.
Mark my words, if Hubbell wins the nomination on June 5, that Kilimanjaro quote will be in a Reynolds attack ad this summer. I don’t care how wealthy Fred is or how many of his rich friends step forward with six-figure checks. Reynolds will have whatever money she needs to hammer home upbringing and lifestyle distinctions. Marginalized and independent voters will gobble it up.
But Democrats have a pathway out of defeat. John Norris or Cathy Glasson would beat Reynolds. Glasson has the best shot. As I’ve said before, not only is she solid on the core issues, but having a woman face off against Reynolds neutralizes one advantage Reynolds might otherwise have.
A lot of Democrats don’t want to hear what I’m saying. What else is new? But again, you didn’t think Donald Trump could win either, did you?
— Ed Fallon