Friday, December 11, 2015

Minnesota Democratic initiative aims to win back rural voters; could serve as a national model

Minnesota is training Democratic candidates to learn how to relate to rural voters and win back seats lost in 2014, Matt Barron reports for The Hill. The "Minnesota Rural Initiative," launched earlier this year, is focused on helping Democrats during the 2016 state legislative races. "Headed by Mike Simpkins, a former campaign manager for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, the program has already enrolled 30 candidates at three regional training sessions by stressing the need to build strong campaign infrastructures."

In 2014, Minnesota lost 10 House seats, eight of them in rural areas, Barron writes. The trend has been national since President Obama took office, with Democrats losing 900 state legislative seats—many of them in rural areas—since he entered office in 2008. Simpkins told Barron, "Instead of blaming our DFL [Democratic Farmer-Labor] Party or our county unit, maybe we need to take more ownership of these rural campaigns."

Minnesota Democrats were concerned that the Democratic National Committee's recently released "autopsy report" on the 2014 midterms "made no mention of, and contained no recommendations for, winning back rural and white working-class voters who have been deserting the party in droves over the last eight years," Barron writes. Simpkins told Barron, "They don't even seem to acknowledge they have a problem."

Backers of the Rural Initiative "say the key to success is getting a fast start out of the blocks and making sure candidates are running smart races," Barron writes. One key is taking the time to visit rural voters, including some rural Minnesota districts that "range from 1,500 to 3,500 square miles." As part of the training, "candidates get schooled in the importance of having a solid field program as well as knowing how to execute paid and earned media plans." Candidates are also taught to focus on delivering "meat-and potato-services, as in 'how are you going to get this road fixed, get us broadband?'"

A similar initiative has been started in Maine. Minnesota Democratic state Rep. Jeanne Poppe said such initiatives could serve as a national model for all Democrats, Barron writes. She told him, "We are putting together the playbook for 2018 and beyond."

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