Monday, June 12, 2017

Democrats in Congress try to mend rural fences

After Donald Trump's landslide margin among rural voters last year, Democrats in Congress are mending fences in rural areas as they look toward the 2018 elections. Two national publications reported on that in the last two days; Maggie Severns of Politico looked at the Senate and Natalie Andrews of The Wall Street Journal looked at the House.

"While many voters in rural areas complained that Democrats forgot them in 2016, and party strategists rush this year to find a new message to bring them back in the fold, Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 have little time to spare to fix their party’s issues," Severns reports. Ten of them are in states that Trump carried, and "These battleground-state Democrats are quick to note that they got elected in the first place by tending to voters outside their states’ biggest population centers."

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and a Holstein cow. (AP photo)
Severns' main example is Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who "has declared war on almond milk," she reports. "Though not a cause célèbre driving political talk on cable news, plant-based beverages called milk are a major sore spot for dairy farmers in Wisconsin, where President Donald Trump swept up to 71 percent of the vote in rural counties last November. Baldwin has introduced a bill banning the nontraditional drinks from being labeled 'milk' — one of several rural issues Baldwin and fellow Democratic senators have championed early and often this year." Severns cites other examples of incumbents work in rural hospitals in Missouri, military bases in North Dakota and the opioid crisis in Ohio.

Republican consultant Scott Jennings "said the early moves are also a sign that the national Democratic Party could be a liability in the next election," Sevens writes, quoting him: “The reason they’re having to localize these things is because they have so badly failed at making their national message anything recognizable to people who used to be Democrats in rural America. They don’t have a handle on the hysterics that are still going on in their party, and until they get a handle on that they’re going to have a problem reconnecting with Trump voters.”

Robin Johnson, a part-time professor at Monmouth College in Illinois, told Andrews of the Journal, “If Democrats can’t do a better job of reaching out to rural voters and getting more of their votes, they’re going to be consigned a permanent minority status in Washington and state legislatures.”

The focus of Andrews' story is Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, "the only member of Democratic Party leadership from the Midwest," who "has a new job: tutoring her fellow House Democrats on talking to the rural voters that her party has lost to Republicans," Andrews writes. "As one of just 12 Democratic House lawmakers representing a district carried by President Donald Trump in last year’s election, the future of Ms. Bustos’s party may depend on her instruction."

Bustos told Andrews that she tells incumbents and potential candidates, “Don’t write off small towns. Don’t write off the counties in your district that have gone Republican for the last several elections. Don’t talk down to anybody. Whether they voted for Donald Trump or voted for Bernie Sanders, talk to people, listen to people.”

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