POLITICS

Ex-Castro Staffer And Top Iowa Democrat Endorses Bernie Sanders

Former Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Derek Eadon’s experience with a rare nerve disease turned him into an evangelist for "Medicare for All."

Derek Eadon, a former deputy campaign manager for Julián Castro and ex-chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, announced his support for Bernie Sanders’s presidential bid Friday, handing the Vermont senator one of his most prominent endorsements from an Iowa Democrat.

Eadon, a 36-year-old veteran of Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, does not fit the typical profile of a Sanders endorser. But a multiyear bout with trigeminal neuralgia, a rare nerve disease that causes acute facial pain, has ruined his finances and reshaped his politics. 

The political consultant, whose condition has cost his family an estimated $40,000 in out-of-pocket costs and brought them to the brink of bankruptcy, said Sanders’s record won him over. Eadon is now an outspoken proponent for “Medicare for All” and an admirer of Sanders’s consistent support for the plan.

“Something that Bernie has that other candidates don’t is he has that background and that consistency,” Eadon said. “He is not just saying ‘Medicare for All’ or ‘no corporate money’ while he’s running for president. He’s been there all along.”

“It really pisses me off when people say, ‘We can’t do Medicare for All.’ We’re seeing constant handouts for corporations, we’re seeing endless wars, nepotism and corruption all over the place,” he added. “It’s naive to think that we can’t expand one of the most popular and one of the most successful government programs that we’ve ever seen be able to provide health care.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a campaign event in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 30. Derek Eadon, a former deputy cam
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a campaign event in West Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 30. Derek Eadon, a former deputy campaign manager for Julián Castro, who has dropped out of the presidential race, has endorsed him.

Eadon emphasized his respect for Castro and expressed his hope that the former housing secretary runs for president again. But Eadon, who worked for the Obama campaign successor group Organizing for America during the Affordable Care Act fight, also now sees the theory behind nominating someone moderate to attract Republican support as “naive.”

“It’s more important to have somebody in the White House where they’re a constant advocate, they’re very aggressive, they’re fierce on these issues,” Eadon said. 

Eadon began experiencing severe pain in his face in 2013. In 2015, it was diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia. 

For a few years after that, the disease did not interfere with his professional responsibilities. He ran for chair of the Iowa Democratic Party in January 2017, winning an upset victory against a former Iowa state Senate majority leader.

In March 2017, at a party event in Davenport, he experienced an episode of severe nerve pain in his face that marked the beginning of a spiral into a debilitating illness. He resigned from the top post at the end of June 2017 to undergo radiation treatment.

The radiation therapy began to relieve some of his pain after about a year, allowing him to resume work. Toward the end of 2018, he took a job with the progressive group Run for Something. He struck up a dialogue with Castro and accepted a position as his deputy campaign manager in January 2019.

For a while after the relief of the pain that had plagued him, Eadon experienced numbness in parts of his face. It led to injuries like him accidentally biting through his tongue, but it was manageable. 

Then, last June, he had another episode of acute pain, this time in his eye. He returned to Iowa to seek treatment, resigning his post on the Castro campaign in July. 

The ordeal has been nightmarish for Eadon, his schoolteacher wife, and their young daughter and son. Republican cuts to public-sector unions’ bargaining power have left his wife with far stingier health care, according to Eadon. Without help from family members helping to pay his medical bills, they would have lost their house in West Des Moines.

Eadon is feeling healthy again and wants to get to work helping Sanders before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. 

Eadon is likely to become a valued surrogate for the campaign. He caucused for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and said he thought his friend, Iowa Democratic strategist Pete D’Alessandro, was “crazy” for working for Sanders then.

But he has come to appreciate the staying power of Sanders’s coalition in a crowded presidential field. He said that Sanders is the most electable of all the candidates.

“It’s not only that he’s bringing in working-class folks. He’s also continuing to bring in new people,” Eadon said. “We can’t just keep doing the same policy ideas and the same candidates just getting a small amount of swing voters. We have to broaden what we’re doing.”

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