Congressman John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat running for president, dons an apron Friday night before serving potato soup to about 50 people at the Churdan Public Library. DOUGLAS BURNS | JEFFERSON HERALD

Delaney intends to be ‘surprise’ candidate in caucuses


CHURDAN — John Delaney, an early entrant in what is a growing field of Democratic White House aspirants, laid bare his strategy for the Iowa caucuses.

Delaney, who has been racking up visits for more than a year, is digging the groundwork for what he hopes is a surprise rise in the polls. The earnest campaigner with a fit physique who can sustain engagement with crowds large and small for hours at a time is doing the political wiring of the state with the same vigor his union-electrician father brought to countless construction projects in New Jersey.

The 55-year-old former businessman turned politician is here early and often, with 25 visits to the Hawkeye State in the books for the Maryland congressman. 

He knows Iowa’s main roads and byways so well that over the weekend, after events in the Waterloo area, it was Delaney himself, traveling in the pickup owned by his late father, who arrived to help a staff member whose car was snagged in a swampy gravel road.

“Thankfully, dad’s pickup came to the rescue and we found them and pushed them out,” Delaney said Sunday morning.

On Friday, for more than two hours, Delaney, a proud Irish Catholic, donned an apron and served potato soup on St. Patrick’s Day weekend — before being served dozens of questions — to about 50 voters at the Churdan Public Library. He arrived at 5:30 p.m. and didn’t leave until 8 p.m., having waited for the politically active group (who selected his event over the Iowa State University Cyclones basketball game) to ask dozens of questions.

“The 2020 election is going to be an old-fashioned persuasion election,” Delaney said.

His argument: the race to stake out the most liberal positions isn’t a winning strategy as the Democratic nominee will need a coalition of independents and persuadable Republicans to take the White House from GOP President Donald Trump.

Energizing the liberal base with zingers aimed at the controversial president isn’t enough, said Delaney, who wants to build a “big tent” party that doesn’t alienate potential converts from the 2016 election.

“I’m a capitalist,” Delaney said. “I’m not afraid to say it. I was pretty good at it.”

Delaney, a working-class kid from New Jersey, built a publicly traded health-care financing company before becoming a Maryland congressman.

That success leads Delaney to encourage voters who are dispirited with what they told Delaney is a troubling direction for the country.

“The United States always snaps back,” Delaney said.

To cut through the morass and misinformation on social media, and give voters a chance to digest substantive exchanges from their elected officials in real time, Delaney proposes that the president debate Congress four times a year, for three hours at a time on national television, giving Americans a chance to see true policy discussions so they can form opinions from more than dashed-off, spontaneous tweets from celebrities with more followers than credentials.

“I think we are having a little issue with the truth in this country,” Delaney said.

Delaney staked out some strong progressive positions in Churdan. He says universal health care is the best way to make capitalism more fair.

And, in questioning from journalist Chuck Offenburger, of Cooper, a Catholic who has publicly staked out anti-abortion positions, Delaney said he is pro-choice.

“I firmly and completely support a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions,” Delaney said.

Delaney — who said he is three-fourths Irish, and a fourth English — talked of his own Catholic faith, saying it informed his views on social justice.

“The finest side of the Catholic Church is when it is serving the poor,” Delaney said.

Pressed on how the church should recover from ongoing issues with problem priests, Delaney advocated allowing female and married people into the ranks of Catholic clergy. Organizations only grow if they attract young people to the flock, and that’s a problem for Catholics, says Delaney, who is observing fewer and fewer people when he attends Mass.

“I go into church and it’s half as many, and it’s sad,” Delaney said.

Delaney told the Churdan audience a president needs to give the United States its “muscle memory” back on being able to accomplish big things. 

In his first 100 days as president, Delaney said he would propose a raft of bipartisan legislation, much of it stemming from existing areas of bipartisan agreement, on education, immigration and digital privacy.

“Words matter, words absolutely matter,” Delaney said, “but you have to do things.”

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