Friday, January 12, 2018

Democratic officials from 8 rural heartland states, 6 carried by Trump, tell their national party, 'You're killing us'

Indiana Rep. Terry Goodin (Politico photo by Patrick Brown)
Democrats have a rural problem. Most of them know it, and at least some care about it. Though they have won recent off-year and special elections, "The number of Democrats holding office across the nation is at its lowest point since the 1920s and the decline has been especially severe in rural America." That's from a recent report by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, who was re-elected in her blue-collar northwestern Illinois district by a 20-point landslide last November.

Bustos knew Democrats needed to gain ground in rural areas, so she commissioned a study to see what rural Democratic politicians in heartland states had to say. The report, Hope from the Heartland: How Democrats Can Better Serve the Midwest by Bringing Rural, Working Class Wisdom to Washington, was just released, and will be distributed to local and regional party leaders and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. It's based on interviews with 72 current or former local Democratic officials from mostly rural areas of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. All voted for Trump but Minnesota (which was close) and Illinois.

The report features advice from people like Indiana state Rep. Terry Goodin, a pro-gun, anti-abortion, Pentecostal cattle farmer who is the last Democrat in the state to represent an entirely rural area. His district went heavily for Trump in 2016, but many Trump voters voted for Goodin, at 17-year legislative veteran, partially because of his pragmatic relatability, Michael Kruse reports for Politico.

In the report, "The quotes from the 72 rural Democrats . . . read like a pent-up primal scream. And Terry Goodin’s comments pop out in particular," Kruse reports. "In the report, he says the Democratic Party is 'lazy,' 'out of touch with mainstream America,' relying on 'too much identity politics' where 'winners and losers are picked by their labels.' The Democrats in his district, he laments, 'feel abandoned'."

His success, Goodin told Kruse, comes from his ability to focus on the things he agrees with his constituents about instead of writing off people who disagree with him about a few things. "In a nutshell, this is the advice of Bustos’ report: Widen the definition of Democrat." Kruse reports. Bustos told him, "If we call ourselves a big tent party, then we should act like it."

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