On August 11, the New Yorker published an article titled “Why John Delaney Won’t Drop Out of the Presidential Race.” Three months later, that prediction has proved true, with John Delaney still in the Democratic primary race. He was the first Democrat to declare for 2020, announcing his candidacy in July of 2017. Two years later, his Twitter bio proudly proclaims him still “In the arena!” Despite his apparent optimism, he has not qualified for a debate since July, and is polling at less than one percent nationally. Thirty-one percent of voters say they have not even heard of him. The most recent news article on him seems to be about him tweeting out a video of him doing box jumps. So, why is he still running? And what exactly is he doing?
John Delaney’s early claim to fame was being the first 2020 Democratic candidate to visit all 99 counties in Iowa. He has sunk millions of dollars into the state and recently did an interview with Burlington’s newspaper, The Hawk Eye. As of mid-November, he had spent more time in the state than any other candidate. While the tactic of going all-in on Iowa has worked for other candidates, including Pete Buttigieg, it does not seem to have been effective for Delaney. He is polling at zero in the state, with over a dozen other candidates ahead of him. In response, Delaney is planning on airing half-hour TV infomercials on his candidacy in Iowa.
The initial ad-buy to do this was about $40,000, and the campaign plans to re-run the spot through February. Delaney has struggled with fundraising though, raising less than a million dollars from July to September. In that quarter, only $130,000 came from small-dollar donors, less than 15% of the total money brought in. Meanwhile, two of the Iowa (and national) front-runners, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, bring in more than 50% of their funds from small-dollar donors. Delaney is a millionaire, however, and has loaned his campaign significant funds, although less in the most recent quarter than in the previous ones.
Delaney has portrayed himself as a moderate. During the debates he did qualify for, he took the on-stage role of a sort of foil to the more progressive candidates. Other moderate have more deftly captured the voters though. Nationally, Joe Biden is the frontrunner, and in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg is. Both Biden and Buttigieg, to varying degrees, have cultivated images of themselves as moderate liberals, as Delaney has tried to do though. Biden has polled high from the beginning though, and Buttigieg was able to leverage a surge in attention into a so-far successful Iowa strategy though. In the crowded field of the Democratic primary, with these moderates already in prominent positions, is there room for Delaney to come into the spotlight?
The numbers would suggest not, but that has not deterred him. While his more popular rivals were on the debate stage last week, he was in a middle school talking about education. His twitter account is active and frequently supplemented with retweets of “Team Delaney – IA.” He concluded his interview with The Hawk Eye by calling on Iowa voters to surprise the “national media” by supporting someone they are not expecting and said that “people might start paying attention.” He has a strategy called “Iowa” and he is sticking to it.
Written by Abigail Phillips