John Delaney is Playing the Long Game
By Elaine Godfrey
The Atlantic, December 10, 2018
The Maryland Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate has visited all 99 of Iowa’s counties—well before many better-known Democrats have even decided whether to run.
On Tuesday, John Delaney wrapped up his 20th visit to the state of Iowa.
The Maryland Democrat announced his presidential intentions way back in July 2017—more than three years before the 2020 election. He’s already visited each of Iowa’s 99 counties, spent $1.5 million on television ads in the state, and hired dozens of staffers—all before big-name Democratic contenders such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have even decided whether to run.
“By going around and doing what I’m doing, meeting with thousands and thousands of Iowans,” Delaney told me in an interview this week, “you can distinguish yourself in a crowded field.”
But who, exactly, is he?
Delaney, who represents Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District, which stretches from Appalachia to the Washington suburbs, is often described as a political moderate. In reality, he checks several progressive boxes: He’s a proponent of universal health care (though not a single-payer system), a $15 minimum wage, and the expansion of early-childhood education. Last month, he joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers to propose carbon-tax legislation. “The way I go about getting progressive things done is by finding common ground,” Delaney said.
Through his early efforts in Iowa, Delaney has positioned himself as a unifier, pledging that as president, he would work to resolve America’s increasing political polarization and put forward legislation with support from both parties. Iowa Democrats told me in interviews that they find his approach refreshing—a kind of throwback to the pre-Trump political era—and each one of the dozen activists and party leaders I spoke with this week seemed to genuinely like the guy.
But it’s still not clear that John Delaney is the kind of candidate Democrats want to put up against Trump in 2020. And with some 400 days until the Iowa caucuses—and many more well-known candidates left to announce their own presidential bids—there is still plenty of time for him to get lost in the fray. “There’s gotta be something about him that rises above another congressperson running for president, because there’s gonna be a lot of those,” said Jake Oeth, the Iowa state director for former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign.
In our interview on Tuesday, Delaney described himself as a “different kind of Democrat,” highlighting, as he often does during his Iowa campaign stops, his blue-collar upbringing and business acumen. The 55-year-old Democrat was born and raised in New Jersey and attended Columbia University in New York with the help of scholarships from his father’s labor union, as well as the local American Legion and Lions Club. Young Delaney then went on to get a law degree from Georgetown and co-found two publicly traded companies: Health Care Financial Partners, which provided loans to small health-care providers, and CapitalSource, a commercial lender. The congressman, who was at one point the youngest CEO in the history of the New York Stock Exchange, has accumulated a fortune of more than $200 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making him the third-wealthiest member of Congress. “I’m a strong believer in the American private economy, the greatest innovation machine ever created,” Delaney told me.
The Maryland Democrat is much more of a policy wonk than a rhetorical charmer, and he spends more time talking about national unity than he does about Donald Trump. In a recent interview with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register, Delaney summed up what he views as the central issue facing the country: “How do we take this terribly divided nation, where American is pitted against American, and how do we start bringing it back together and restoring a sense of unity and common purpose to our country?”
While it’s not exactly rare to find a politician preaching national unity on the campaign trail, Delaney says he’s different. Others might give lip service to bipartisanship, he told me, “but I’m the only one actually focused on that.”
During his time in Congress, the multimillionaire lawmaker teamed up with two Republicans to push for legislation that would use revenue from international tax reform to fund various infrastructure projects. On the campaign trail in Iowa, Delaney has pledged that, if elected, he would only introduce legislation that receives bipartisan support for his first 100 days in office. Some of his top priorities for those first few months include passing a comprehensive infrastructure package, doubling the earned-income tax credit, and establishing an optional National Service Program for young people between high school and college.
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