Their struggles are modeled off of the work of Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia state House minority leader and gubernatorial candidate who spent years developing a broad Democratic political infrastructure in her state. Abrams is broadly credited with hastening Georgia’s shift toward battleground status after decades as a GOP stronghold.
In Iowa, state and local Democratic leaders are rolling out the New Iowa Project — named after Abrams’s New Georgia Project — a group that will concentrate on voter registration, turnout and education efforts. In Missouri, where Democrats are gunning for retiring Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) vacated seat, activists have established a similar initiative inspired by Abrams’s work in Georgia.
“Everybody is looking at the Stacey Abrams model,” stated Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Democratic Party in Polk County, Iowa, adding that while the specific strategies vary by state, “the one constant is that no matter what state you look at, everyone’s trying to do some version of what Stacey did.”
Democrats have seen few statewide victories in Iowa over the past decade. Republicans now dominate the governor’s mansion and both of the state’s Senate seats. Bagniewski announced that part of his party’s problem in Iowa is that it mostly gave up on voter registration and mobilization in favor of the kind of data-heavy campaigns that helped give former President Obama the state in both 2008 and 2012.
“When I started in Iowa politics in 2008, there were 100,000 more registered Democrats in Iowa than Republicans,” Bagniewski explained. “Obama won twice. We were coming off of Tom Vilsack’s two terms as governor. [Former Gov.] Chet Culver was in office.”
“How did we lose so much so quickly?” he went on. “The answer comes back to voter registration and turnout. It’s the Stacey Abrams model.”
Democrats’ ultra narrow Senate majority means that they can’t afford to cede any ground to Republicans in next year’s midterm elections; Republicans need to get only one seat to regain charge of the upper chamber.
Yet Republicans are likewise defending 20 Senate seats to Democrats’ 14 and are contending with retirements in a handful of states, among them, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri. Both parties are also watching Iowa and Wisconsin closely, as Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) consider whether to seek reelection in 2022.
While Pennsylvania and North Carolina are perennial battlegrounds with recent records of close statewide races, states like Missouri, Ohio and Iowa are expected to pose a greater challenge for Democrats in the midterms given their collective lurch to the right in recent years.