Thursday, February 09, 2017

Rural Democrats still trying to figure out what went wrong during election, and how to fix it

Kim Butler, chairwoman of the Polk County, Wisconsin
Democratic Committee speaks. (David Weigel photo)
Rural Democrats in Wisconsin, who are still trying to figure out what went wrong during the 2016 presidential election, spent about two hours Wednesday "venting to Thomas Perez, a candidate for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, about how the party had blown it in rural America," David Weigel reports for The Washington Post. Before 2016 Democrats had taken every presidential election in Wisconsin dating back to 1988.

Steve Smith, a former state legislator from the north woods who lost his seat to a Republican in 2014, told Weigel, “I talked to neighbors, to working people, and they felt that the Democrats no longer represented working people’s interests. I was shocked, but they were speaking from their heart. And in the 2016 election, rural America abandoned Democrats, because they felt like Democrats had abandoned them. We’ve got to use acute hearing and figure out how that happened.”

What happened was that 50 Midwest counties, most of them rural, flipped from blue to red from 2012 to 2016, Weigel writes. The balance of power, or a path back to control of Congress, runs through rural areas, especially the ones who’d voted twice for Barack Obama then gave Trump wide margins of victory in the Rust Belt. Trump's win has led to nationwide protests, with activist groups beginning to pop up in rural areas. How that will translate to elections has yet to be seen.

One problem is that some longtime rural Democrats voted Republican not because they embraced those candidates, but because they viewed Democrats as lost and elitist, especially Hillary Clinton, who was largely disliked in rural areas, Weigel writes. "But at Perez’s listening session, a few of the newly organized progressive activists, and a few who identified themselves as moderates, worried that their neighbors had voted Republican for reasons they could not undo."

"One suggested that Democrats needed to fight to strip public-airwave licenses from networks that were running entertainment or propaganda," Weigel writes. "Several more worried that Trump had succeeded by setting their neighbors against non-white voters, miles or hundreds of miles away." Perez "suggested that the answer to all of the rural resistance’s challenges was to keep it up. They were organizing; that was why they could win." He said, “When we over-rely on data analytics and don’t make house calls, we set ourselves up. When we’re not listening, we set ourselves up.”

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