Sunday, November 13, 2016

Democrats fault Clinton's lack of attention to rural areas, worry about farm-state Senate races in 2018

Democrats are second-guessing Hillary Clinton's "decision to largely surrender the rural vote" to Donald Trump, Helena Bottemiller Evich reports for Politico. "With their eyes turned anxiously to 2018, they’re urging a new strategy to reach out to rural voters to stave off another bloodbath when a slew of farm-state Democrats face tough reelection battles." Those include Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Jon Tester of Montana.

"The billionaire New Yorker never issued any rural policy plans, but he galvanized long-simmering anger by railing against trade deals, the EPA and the "war on American farmers," Evich notes. The rural vote was also driven by "hollowed-out towns, economic hardship and a sustained exodus" from rural areas. That helped Trump win 65.9 percent of the rural vote, up from Mitt Romney's 60.4 percent in 2012. Clinton won 29.4 percent, well under President Obama's 37.7 percent in 2012, the Daily Yonder calculated.

"Numerous Democrats in agriculture circles buzzed with frustration over what they regarded as halfhearted efforts to engage rural voters," Evich reports. "Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had urged the campaign to shore up rural outreach, multiple sources said, beating the same drum he has for several cycles as Democrats have seen their rural support steadily erode. By all accounts, the Clinton campaign didn’t think it really needed rural voters, a shrinking population that’s reliably Republican. The campaign never named a rural council, as Obama did in 2012 and 2008."

In contrast to Clinton's efforts in upstate New York as a senator and her attention to rural issues in 2008, a source told Evich that her campaign had only one staffer dedicated to rural issues, and "the assignment came just weeks before the election." One young Democrat whom Evich granted anonymity told her, “It’s a tough slog. It’s hard to speak to rural America. It’s very regionally specific. It feels daunting. You have these wings of the party, progressives, and it’s hard to talk to those people and people in rural America, and not seem like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth.”

Dee Davis, director of the Center for Rural Strategies, told Evich that Clinton hurt herself with comments about "deplorables" and shutting coal mines, Trump's success had little to do with policy: “What Trump did in rural areas was try to appeal to folks culturally . . . A lot of us in rural areas, our ears are tuned to intonation. We think people are talking down to us. What ends up happening is that we don't focus on the policy — we focus on the tones, the references, the culture.”

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