After violent threats chase Democrats from local political races, new candidates are hard to find

The race to represent Iowa isn’t really a race at all.
The race to represent Iowa isn’t really a race at all.
Image: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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Democratic candidates in Iowa and upstate New York have dropped out of political races in recent weeks, citing physical threats and concern for their families’ safety.

Hours after discussing his bid for mayor in Binghamton, New York on local radio in April, Michael Treiman said he was emailed threats directed at his wife and children. The same evening, someone driving by his home yelled “liberal scumbag,” and hit him with a soda container while he was holding one of his toddlers.

Treiman said last week he has moved away from his hometown of 32 years, but will run for Binghamton mayor again when he can afford to hire a private security team. The local Democratic National Committee (DNC) said June 10 it still not had found a candidate to replace him, and has named a “placeholder.” To run, candidates much collect signatures from party member by mid-July, so the window to name one is “quickly closing,” the committee said.

Kim Weaver, an Iowan candidate for the House of Representatives, dropped out of the race on June 3, citing “very alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats.” Weaver said she would support whoever runs against her opponent Steve King, and transfer the funds she’s raised to their campaign. That primary will be held in November of 2018, and judging from past Iowa elections a candidate can be named as late as that August.

King, who is known for quoting right-wing extremists, and predicting minorities would kill each other before becoming a majority in America, said he thought Weaver was lying about the death threats, and accused Democrats of driving her out.

Nationally, the election of Donald Trump has sparked a huge uptick in brand-new candidates for Democratic elections—by late April, the number of Democrats registered to run in 2018 political races had jumped 58% from the last mid-term elections in 2014. A representative from the DNC said these two races were an aberration. “Up-and-down the ballot, Democrats are coming out in droves to run against Trump and a GOP establishment that is trying to repeal health care and rob public schools so they can give more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires,” said a DNC spokesman at the committee’s national headquarters in Washington, DC. “There’s no denying the amount of energy on our side of the political divide.”

Still, threats of violence are part of a larger pattern, political experts worry. Last week, Eric Trump, the president’s son, referred to his father’s critics as “not even people” and singled out Democrats, who he said were trying obstruct a “great man.” Montana Republican Greg Gianforte was reelected last month after physically assaulting a reporter. (Gianforte has since pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and will not serve any time in jail.)

“I can’t remember a time when we had candidates of party X pulling out because of threats from party Y,” said Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies who has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. The most recent developments show that there are “some Republicans who are not going to let go of power,” she said, and are “willing to use violence to hang on to it.”