CLEAR LAKE — Each year the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding lives up to its unusual and playful name by being slightly unorthodox.
Last year, for instance, attendees twittered nervously as organizers literally mowed down defaced photographs of Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley that had been mounted in AstroTurf. While that bit of political humor missed the mark, other attempts, usually in the form of skits, have been more successful.
This year’s offering was a much subdued two-man scripted exchange. (“Just got diagnosed with T.I.A.D. That sounds serious. What is it? Trump-Induced Anxiety Disorder.”) There were some moan-worthy puns, and one-liners tame enough to share with the grandkids.
And, as it turns out, organizers didn’t need to push the envelope on this evening billed as an introduction to the party’s “Rising Stars.” Unusual enough was the mix of candidates and messages intended solely for the consumption of Iowa Democrats in this non-presidential year.
The “rising star” label was accurate enough, given the party has a slew of younger and non-traditional candidates on upcoming ballots. It’s a more confrontational group of candidates than Iowa has seen in the past — ambitious, self-assured and non-apologetic.
The list includes the very bold Heather Ryan, a military veteran and business owner, who hopes to challenge incumbent Republican David Young in the Third Congressional District. After leading the audience in a series of questions in which the correct answer was to proclaim Young an “a**hole,” Ryan told attendees she’s aware her brash style could rub people the wrong way, but to not expect change.
“When Michelle Obama tells folks when they go low, we go high, that works for her,” Ryan explained. “She’s very classy. I’m not.”
Each candidate from this group took the microphone and in less blunt ways than Ryan proclaimed themselves fighters — fearless scrappers who would not back down, or be afraid to allow their individualism to shine as they work on behalf of Iowans.
Following a program break, when candidates for governor took the stage, it was as if someone had switched the channel. Sure, these candidates also proclaimed a desire to fight for Iowans, but the real competition was on who could “out-Iowa” the others.
Retired businessman Fred Hubbell’s campaign T-shirts read: “Corn fed. Iowa bred. Voting for Fred.” Unfortunately, he began his remarks by admitting to never attending a Wing Ding or visiting the historic Surf Ballroom, diminishing his promoted Iowa creds.
Yet, the Hubbell T-shirt message was what the gubernatorial candidates hoped to convey. Speeches highlighted small town roots and other state connections, told in folksy, down-home styles. Time and again attendees were reminded “we” are Iowans with shared roots and values.
Down ballot candidates served heaping portions of red meat to the chicken dinner crowd; gubernatorial hopefuls proudly displayed their corn-based side dishes.
Who left this rural Iowa political fellowship dinner with Tupperware scooped clean? Your unorthodox guess is as good as mine.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on August 15, 2017. Photo credit: Lynda Waddington