Before Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney made his first scouting trip to Iowa, he got some primo intel on the state — from his 10-year-old daughter.
Last year in the 4th grade, Grace Delaney was assigned to write a report on a state — and lo and behold, she drew Iowa. A “total coincidence,” her father says.
“We had nothing to do with it. And she had to write a big report, make a massive poster and sing a song that she had to write about the state,” he said.
Featured prominently was the food at the Iowa State Fair. “She was very interested in the fried Oreos,” he said.
Delaney, a Maryland congressman, spent a couple of days in the Des Moines area last week. He chatted up Democratic activists at the Scenic Route coffee shop, interviewed some potential campaign staff and then joined his family at the Iowa State Fair.
Yes, it’s absurdly early for a serious candidate. Delaney is relatively unknown and congressmen are long shots for the presidency. But his vision and agenda were getting some positive interest among the Democratic activists who met him at the coffee shop.
“I think someone has to lay out an optimistic vision for the future that’s based on what’s happening in the world, and come up with what I think are obvious policies that the country can rally around on some kind of a bipartisan basis to get things done,” Delaney said. “I think I’m the only one who is actually focusing on these issues and I’ve got the life experiences to allow me to do it.”
The life experiences Delaney mentions: He grew up in a large, blue-collar family in New Jersey with two parents who never went to college; after Columbia University on a union scholarship and Georgetown law school, he says he started two companies “from scratch” (both banks) and took them both public. “I’m the only former CEO of a public company in Congress,” he said.
He says he personally financed about 50 percent of his congressional campaigns. He was first elected in 2012. A wealthy banker-turned-congressman isn’t the obvious profile of a winning candidate for the Iowa caucuses. But a candidate with compelling ideas often can gain traction here and that’s what Delaney is counting on.
He says forward-looking CEOs are planning around four major issues that are driving change around the world: technology, automation, artificial technology and global interconnections. He said these issues will affect society, work and jobs, security risks, resource allocation and demographics.
“I think the United States is in a very good position to do incredibly well based on these changes and I think in general, these changes will be very positive,” Delaney said. “But they’re not going to be positive for everyone. And we can clearly take very specific steps to prepare our country and our citizens for the world that will unfold based on these forces. And I think that conversation is non-existent in politics right now.”
For example, he advocates for a carbon tax to address climate change. He says he would use the revenue for tax cuts and reform. He’d also use some of the money to help coal miners, the most obvious losers from that change in policy.
If you talk about the future, Delaney said. “you actually have to come together to do something.”
If you’re talking about the past, he said, you can just keep “unearthing new enemies.”
As for working together to solve problems, Delaney says hyper-partisan politics is ruining the country by preventing us from doing anything. “And I’ve always believed the cost of doing nothing is not nothing,” he said.
Delaney sounds a smidge like Bernie Sanders when he says there needs to be a citizen movement in the country to change Washington, D.C. But unlike 2016, he says he thinks the country is ready for that change because of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“He has no moral compass. He doesn’t make a distinction between right and wrong,” Delaney said of Trump. “And I think that’s the punctuation of the failure of American politics that we let this happen.”
Delaney does not spend much time talking about Trump, however. Instead, he talks about how he wants to reform health care by focusing not just on access but on cost and quality. He talks about unshackling retirement savings from employment and refocusing the tax laws for how earnings and investment really work.
And he talks about how his preferred leisure activities revolve around spending time with his family, including four daughters ranging in age from 10 to 21. He said he’s Catholic and he sees this campaign as a “leap of faith.”
“So what we believe is if we stay true to ourselves and do it for the right reason, it’ll work out,” he said. “We talk a lot about this as a family. We actually think for a whole variety of reasons, I’m in this position and I’m in the position to do this. And what I have to say is really worth saying.”
I don’t know who else will be joining Delaney in the Democratic campaign. (His aide noted that other people are running, they’re just not admitting it yet.) But being the first to openly announce gives him a chance to start that conversation. I hope by the time he has company on the campaign trail, Iowans will insist they also talk about the future and not keep wallowing in the past.