Deidre DeJear spoke at an Iowa Unity Coalition forum on Jan. 22, 2022. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)
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By Katie Akin, Iowa Capital Dispatch

In the wake of weak fundraising numbers this week, gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear rallied with party leaders in Des Moines.

About 50 people gathered at the United Steelworkers Local 310 on Saturday afternoon for a forum organized by the progressive Iowa Unity Coalition. Most attendees were elected officials or involved with Democratic campaigns. A row of campaign tables lined the back of the room, with roving staffers looking for signatures on nomination petitions.

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DeJear was the only gubernatorial candidate to speak at the forum. She is the best-known Democrat in the race to challenge incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Saturday’s forum came just days after DeJear released a 2021 fundraising report that lagged far behind the GOP incumbent. While the Reynolds campaign had $4.8 million cash on hand going into the new year, DeJear’s operation had just $8,500. Last year, DeJear raised $279,000. Reynolds raised 13 times more.

DeJear told reporters after the event that she had received “an overwhelming amount of support” since the 2021 numbers were reported this week. She said there had also been a bump in fundraising after competitor Rep. Ras Smith left the race earlier this month.

“While the numbers reflect the end of 2021, 2022 we are on fire. And I’m super, super excited,” she said.

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Swati Dandekar, a vice chair of the Unity Coalition, attributed the fundraising issues to the stage of the race, arguing many Iowans have tuned in for the November election yet.

“Today is going to help (DeJear),” Dandekar said. “Once you know somebody, where she stands on policy, it’s very easy for people to raise money too.”

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At Saturday’s forum, Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart emphasized the importance of voting and overcoming the challenge of voter apathy in the state.

“I’ve heard everyone saying that, ‘Oh my god, this next election that’s coming up is going to be dismal,’” Hart said. “‘If you’re a Democrat, it’s going to be dismal’… Yeah, that may be the case, if we quit and we give up.”

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He encouraged the crowd to “stay activated” and talk to their neighbors about getting involved.

“Every dollar counts,” Hart said. “We need to find a way to get the base activated, to understand that this is just as important as any other time in our history.”

DeJear responded to questions from local officials on education, health care access and the economy. She committed to raising the minimum wage and reinstating collective bargaining rights for public employees. DeJear also said Iowa needs to “come to terms” with the reality of legalized cannabis in neighboring states, such as Illinois, and the desire for more widespread medical marijuana.

“All that we have talked about today are reasonable problems that we see happening throughout our community,” DeJear said. “But they also have solutions attached to them.”

DeJear called for attendees to get involved with the campaign, though she did not mention the gap in fundraising or ask for donations.

“We need more of you all to add your value to the discussion,” she said. “I’ve got great vision for where this state can go, but needless to say, my vision is incomplete without yours.”

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