Edward-Isaac Dovere: Campaigns and reporters have been descending on Iowa for over a year. What have people kept missing about what’s happening in the state?
J. D. Scholten: You really see the pain that’s happening in America. It’s one thing to talk about some of these things, and it’s another thing to actually feel it. And the folks who do make it up [to] Northwest Iowa, I think they’re seeing that. We’re the second-most-agriculture-producing district in America. So it’s very much agriculture-driven.
A lot of folks just assume that if the tariffs ended tomorrow … that farmers will be okay. And that’s not the truth. We see market consolidation in years of allowing mergers. And what we’re seeing right now are a lot of small towns struggling just to keep their local grocery stores alive.
Dovere: The “Why Iowa?” questions are louder than ever this year. What do you make of them?
Scholten: I think we need, especially as a Democratic Party, we need to be very open that race does play in a lot of different things. It matters where you grow up and how much access you have to political candidates. And I understand that. And I think it’s a dialogue that we need to really have.
However, I think there should be even class diversity in D.C. And that’s one thing I’m trying to do, is be a working-class candidate who makes it to Congress. But Iowa has a lot of benefits to it. We do a really good job of forcing candidates to be retail politicians. And you see, traditionally, senators from large states don’t do well here, because they’re used to just fundraising and putting on TV ads. But when you have to go out there and meet people where they’re at, there’s something to be said about that.
Dovere: You were a professional Minor League Baseball player paying bills by working as a paralegal. How did you get involved in running?
Scholten: For the Women’s March, I was in Seattle, and it just blew me away. Just the raw power and energy. And I knew right then that, you know what? I’m going to go home and I’m going to make a difference. I didn’t know what that meant. And then when I moved back, I started working. There was no job in the Sioux City Journal, my hometown paper. I looked for a month for a job, and the best job I could find was 15 bucks an hour with no benefits. And finally, I saw there was nobody in this race for a month, and so we launched very humbly. And that’s kind of how it all started.
Dovere: Iowa is the greatest concentration of Obama-Trump voters. From what you’ve seen, who are the Obama-Trump voters? What was motivating them?
Scholten: Oh, man, if I had that answer … I understand why a lot of folks switched in. And there’s that pain, there’s that sadness that’s out there. And they’re looking for change. They want somebody different. They want somebody who will listen to them in. Obama ran on hope and change in some form. So did Trump. And he was an outsider. And so I see that. Look where the progressive movement in the Democratic Party originated from: It was a lot of prairie populism … Especially here in the Midwest, Trump was able to just step into that. And so that’s been a huge part of what we’ve been trying to correct: We feel your pain, but that’s not the direction we should be going.