Shadow Senator Paul Strauss attends an event in West Hollywood, Calif on Feb. 13, 2014.
Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty

What is D.C.’s ‘shadow senator’ doing in Iowa?


The job of a “shadow senator” from the District of Columbia is to convince Congress to grant D.C. statehood. That already Sisyphean challenge was made more difficult when Republicans took control of both chambers of Congress last year, so you have to get creative. For D.C. shadow Sen. Paul Strauss, that includes flirting with a run for president.

It’s not every day that Washington municipal officials show up in Iowa, but Strauss will be appearing at an event Sunday hosted by the Polk County Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, billed as a chance to meet the shadow senator. Democrats, including likely 2016 front runner Hillary Clinton, have made favorable noises about giving D.C. more political representation, but have generally stopped short of endorsing full statehood. At 2012’s Democratic National Convention, statehood activists failed to get their cause added to the party’s platform.

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Washington’s two shadow senators, unlike D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, have no legal power in Congress, but they serve as the city’s official elected lobbyists for statehood. They receive no budget or pay from the government, but do have offices provided by the city. Strauss’s job was previously held by Jesse Jackson, who ran for president twice, and few politicians make accidental trips to Iowa, so it seemed worth asking – is he considering a White House bid?

“Does anybody ever say ‘no’ when you ask them about their trips to Iowa and New Hampshire?” he told msnbc. Strauss has also spoken at the New Hampshire Statehouse. “It’s certainly my intention to make D.C. statehood part of the national discussion, and that would include the presidential campaign.”

Noting that former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb – both of whom are actively exploring 2016 presidential runs – are also scheduled to hold events with the Polk County Democrats, Strauss said his visit was “a great opportunity for me to be included in that group.” Asked again about his future, he added: “I haven’t made any other decisions.”

Strauss may be playing a bit cheeky, and he also cautioned not to “read too much more into” the fact that event is taking place on President’s Day weekend. But the desire to get attention for D.C. statehood in Iowa, where voters have a way of influencing presidential candidates, is very real. And what better way to get attention than making presidential waves?

“We’re looking for interesting ways to inject D.C. statehood into the presidential debate,” he explained. “Given the new configuration of Congress, we need to take our message of statehood outside the District of Columbia.”

The GOP has for years actively opposed measures to give Washingtonians more voting power. It’s not hard to see why – the District voted 90% for Barack Obama in 2012, so the GOP isn’t exactly eager to hand Democrats two guaranteed Senate seats.

District of Columbia and Iowa

What is D.C.'s 'shadow senator' doing in Iowa?