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Delaney Looks To Build Momentum As Iowa Caucuses Draw Closer

Katie Peikes
Former Maryland Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney talks to people at Burns’ Grill & Doon Steakhouse in Doon.";

A Democrat who's been running for president longer than anyone else in this cycle is pulling out all the stops to gain traction ahead of the Iowa caucuses next month. Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney has set out to visit at least 40 towns in Iowa ahead of the caucuses. 
At Burns’ Grill & Doon Steakhouse in northwest Iowa on Saturday, Delaney sat down with more than 20 people in the Doon restaurant to share his vision on helping small towns, particularly in rural America.

“Small town after small town, I see the same thing,” Delaney said. “They’re shrinking and they’re aging. And there’s not opportunities for young people.” 

Delaney shared a few of his ideas for how to create economic opportunities in smaller communities: One is a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure program that would give more money to struggling communities over larger cities. Another thing Delaney said he would do is double the earned income tax credit, a credit for lower income workers, in struggling communities. Rural America has often been ignored, Delaney said, but he said he’ll fight for it.

"I want to surprise in the Iowa caucuses and I want rural Iowa to send a message that they matter." Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney

“And if you caucus for me and I do better in the Iowa caucus than people expect, I promise you on national television, I’ll stand and look at those cameras and say ‘Listen, you know why I did well? It’s because rural America voted for me. And you know why rural America voted for me? Because I actually have plans for rural America’.”

Delaney has been polling on the lower end of the spectrum, generating an average of less than 1 percent in recent polls. A November Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register, CNN and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines found he and author Marianne Williamson were not named as any respondent's first choice for president. 

"I want to surprise in the Iowa caucuses and I want rural Iowa to send a message that they matter," said Delaney, in an interview with IPR.

Setting his sights on campaigning in many rural towns over the next few weeks, Delaney reiterated one of the major issues he cares about: Small towns are shrinking and all of the opportunities are in bigger cities.

“And we need someone to really fight for these towns,” Delaney said. “And I see what’s happening in these great towns, to these great people, and I just think it’s terrible and I really want to fight for them.”

Doon, a town of close to 600 people, is in northwest Iowa’s rural, conservative Lyon County. Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King of Kiron won this county with 72 percent of the vote in the 2018 midterm election. But Delaney, a Democrat, still found support there on Saturday. Joe Munoz of Doon said he’ll caucus for Delaney.

“This country is so separated, we need to work together,” Munoz said. “And he seems like the person that wants to work together and can get the job done.”

Munoz said he likes Delaney because "I love the way he's bipartisan towards his goals, his desire and the way he handles people."

An issue often at the top of voters’ minds in Iowa's 4th Congressional District is abortion. A few people wearing hats in support of President Donald Trump came out to hear what Delaney had to say on the highly divisive issue.

Kyle Lems and Adam Van Engen of Doon challenged Delaney on his stance on abortion, calling abortion “a moral dilemma.” They engaged in an intense discussion with Delaney for several minutes.

“I respect your right to go out and fight and try to change the laws on this. You have every right to do that,” Delaney said.

“I know, but if you’re going to run for president, you’re my voice for that, right?” Van Engen asked.

Delaney, who is Catholic, said, “I follow the teachings of my church in my private life, but I respect Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. I’m not trying to dodge the issue.”

Lems said they want “One person, one Democrat to stand up and say, ‘hey you know what? This is not okay because it’s not okay’.” 

Lems and Van Engen told IPR they both plan to vote for President Trump in the 2020 election, but when a presidential candidate comes to their small town, they’re interested to hear to what they have to say.

“I wanted to challenge Delaney to stand up for what’s actually right, because nobody else would do it,” Lems said. “If there’s going to be a Democratic presidential candidate that could stand up for what’s right, and Trump wouldn’t get in, I would definitely support a Democrat if they could stand up for the right thing.”

Reflecting on the conversation, Delaney said “this was good, it was a little spicy,” and said he respects why people look at the abortion issue differently.

Delaney has at least 30 more stops planned on what his campaign is calling a “small town blitz” across Iowa, which he believes will make him stand out. “I’ve been to [Iowa's] 99 counties,” he said. “I’ve done more events than any other candidate.”

He acknowledged that he thinks it will be hard for him to win the Iowa caucuses against some of the candidates that have higher name recognition.

“But I’m going to do better than people think,” Delaney said. “And I'm going to finish, you know, up there, and it's going to send a message.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.