Presidential candidate talks blue collar roots at Cafe Diem


Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney addresses a group of supporters at the Ames coffee shop Cafe Diem on May 23. He talked about fixing key issues such as climate change, relations with China, women’s rights, and immigration.  

Jake Webster

Former representative John Delaney, D-Md., was the first candidate to enter the 2020 Democratic primary for president when he announced his bid nearly two years ago. Delaney has already made more than three dozen campaign visits to Iowa since announcing his candidacy, adding one more visit on Thursday when he stopped at Cafe Diem to talk with voters.

The cafe had several dozen people in it who quieted down when Delaney stood up on the steps in the back to deliver his speech. 

Delaney is among several candidates in the Democratic primary field whose highest experience in elected office is representing their districts in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1880, James Garfield was the last president to be elected with the House as the highest office they held.

When an individual called Delaney “congressman,” Delaney said to call him John.

“My name is John Delaney, I am running for president, and I’m very different from the current occupant of the oval office,” Delaney said to open his speech. “And I just don’t mean the hairline.”

Delaney breaks from better-known Democratic presidential candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who proposes free four-year public college and university tuition, in his solution to ensure kids do better than their parents.

“Every kid needs something after high school — I don’t think we should give them free four-year college necessarily, but we should give them access to free community college or career and technical training,” Delaney said.

During his speech, Delaney mentioned his blue-collar roots. He said his father was an electrician and neither of his parents went to college, and he was only able to afford his education at Columbia University because his father’s union colleagues “threw money into a hat to create a scholarship.”

“I’ve lived the American dream, you know that classic story — blue-collar kid does well, has the privilege of serving their country [in Congress]. The problem is those stories are just so much tougher today,” Delaney said. “You know the young people today will be the first generation of Americans that will not do better than their parents unless we change things.”

The former congressman said nine out of 10 people born in 1950 did better than their parents. Delaney said today the number is closer to one out of five, saying he believes this is a result of technological change.

“You know these devices a bunch of you are holding in your hands — those things are 120 million times more powerful than all of the computers we used to send a person to the moon,” Delaney said.

Delaney said a lot of Americans got left behind in this change, and it “destabilized our political system.”

The next presidential election will be fought in the political center ground, Delaney said. Pitching himself as someone who has a history of being “electable,” Delaney said he flipped a red district blue and ousted an incumbent Republican U.S. representative.

The district Delaney represented was redrawn between the Republican’s previous election and Delaney’s victory in 2012. A federal court ruled in 2018 that the district was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Democrats and it must be redrawn.

Current polling finds Delaney with support at its highest in the low single-digits. A Monmouth poll released Thursday found Delaney with 0% support nationally.

The Democratic National Committee set out criteria to qualify for a podium on the debate stage next month in Miami — a candidate must receive donations from at least 65,000 unique donors with at least 200 donors from 20 different states, or achieve at least 1% in three polls from pollsters approved by the committee.

The former congressman said not making the debate stage is not a scenario his campaign is planning for, and declined to release the number of unique donations his campaign has received.

However, Delaney said he will qualify for the debates based on polling. 

“We’re planning on making the debate stage,” Delaney said in a press gaggle after the event.