Maybe Democrats in middle America and outside urban bubbles haven’t gotten the memo. Blue Dog Democrats are extinct. Unless you support unrestricted abortion, denigrating law enforcement, trashing our nation’s history, and boys playing in girl’s sports if they put on a dress, you are alt-right. Democrats up for election in rural areas have been having problems with messaging for some time.
During the 2020 election, Politico wrote the following about candidates in rural Wisconsin, Oregon, and Illinois:
Democratic lawmakers and strategists say they are confident most of these incumbents will hold on, particularly with Joe Biden topping the ticket and the president lagging in many polls. But the closer-than-expected races show how quickly President Donald Trump has driven GOP gains in rural America, carrying a warning that Democrats still have work to do to win back some of those once-loyal voters.
In December of 2020, the chair of the Democratic Party in Dunn County, Wisconsin, put a fine point on Democrats’ struggles to connect with rural voters. His assessment followed unexpected gains by Republicans in the House of Representatives. According to Bill Hogseth, the failure in his county was not grassroots organizing:
Why did Trump do so well with rural voters? From my experience, it’s not because local Democrats failed to organize in rural areas. Instead, after conversations with dozens of voters, neighbors, friends and family members in Dunn County, I’ve come to believe it is because the national Democratic Party has not offered rural voters a clear vision that speaks to their lived experiences. The pain and struggle in my community is real, yet rural people do not feel it is taken seriously by the Democratic Party.
In 2020, Democrats and the Biden campaign had a deliberate plan to win back rural voters. Despite the efforts and money, President Trump took approximately two-thirds of those voters, and participation went up in many rural counties. Axios is reporting rural Democrats running in 2022 have learned this lesson and are trying to separate themselves from their party’s national brand in the South, Midwest, and the Rockies.
The report gives two specific examples. In Ohio, Representative Tim Ryan does an entire 3-minute ad for his Senate race and never mentions which party he belongs to. Democrat Monica Tranel is running for Montana’s new House seat and admits in her ad.
“So many people I grew up with don’t vote for Democrats anymore. They feel like Democrats look down on rural America.”
Gee, you have to wonder why they think that. Maybe it is because left-wing environmental policies hurt farmers. Perhaps it goes back to the accusations of President Barack Obama that middle Americans are “bitter clingers.” Hillary Clinton upped the rhetoric by referring to Trump voters as “a basket of deplorables.” Now, it has reached peak alarm with the labels like white supremacy and fascist.
Consultants are advising these candidates to push Biden’s populist policies like unconditioned welfare and labor rights. They assert the policies on climate are also popular along with rural broadband. These ideas seem like a stretch. Hogseth’s response to his party after the 2020 election makes it clear rural areas want to share in the prosperity, not handouts. Open borders flood these communities with more fentanyl, and the CDC is reporting record deaths from overdoses.
Republicans can counter these ideas pretty easily. Climate policies are killing the prosperity of California farmers and their communities. In an interview with Laura Loogan for Fox Nation, Victor Davis Hanson, a central valley farmer and political commentator, shared that in his community, one-third of the residents are on public assistance. He also noted progressive economic and social policies, such as the ones the consultants recommend Democrats highlight, have eliminated the traditional middle class across the entire state.
Dairy farmer Tom Barcellos told Logan that he would not be farming all of his lands this year due to the cost of water. He will only plant 20% of the corn he traditionally grows, which will raise the cost of feeding his herd. The farm his family has run since 1928 is in jeopardy because of California’s climate policies. It costs him thousands of dollars to comply with the crushing climate regulations. Under Biden’s climate policy proposals, his herd would cost $1.6 million extra every year due to the new carbon tax for methane.
I recommended Republicans vocally support funds for rural broadband and roads and bridges in the initial infrastructure proposal. The party needs to get better with this messaging and specifically talk about the useless spending preventing a simple bill regarding these items from passing. In rural communities, they also need to point out that Democrats go to Washington and vote lockstep with the radical agenda being driven by the Squad, no matter what they say on the campaign trail.
In Southern California, the rural areas of Los Angeles County in District 5 see increased activity from Mexican cartels thanks to lax border policies and lack of enforcement of laws on the books. These issues are creating security and environmental threats impacting the livelihoods and lives of members of these communities.
Another little-reported Biden directive should also rattle rural communities in the West. Executive Order 14008 directs agency heads to develop a plan to “conserve” 30% of America’s land and water by 2030. Whether by federal regulation or government management, this will restrict how land and water can be used in one-third of the country, affecting primarily rural populations. Republican candidates in these areas need to demand details on what this directive means and how it would impact their communities.
Progressive policy, whether it sounds populist or not, is devastating for rural communities. It is no wonder Democrats in these districts are running from their national party brand. But they can only run so far. The GOP must use real-world examples, like central California, to demonstrate that Democrats have nothing to offer rural America. The Democrat Party is beholden to coastal elites who prefer the progressive policies and the global trade agenda that hollowed out middle America in the first place.