Democrats in rural America have a blunt message for the rest of their party: We saw the electoral disaster coming — and it’s your fault.
Strategists and party officials say their warnings about the party’s lackluster outreach to rural voters went unheeded by Democratic leaders for years, culminating in this month’s shock defeat to Donald Trump. A presidential candidate who actually performed poorly in many cities and suburbs nonetheless scored an upset victory because of a surge in support from small towns and rural areas.
To these old Democratic political hands — many of whom hail from well outside the cities where most party professionals live — the outcome would have been preventable if the party had developed and sustained an effort to win over these voters. Instead, they say a Democratic Party that focused on only the urban and suburban vote either ignored rural America entirely or badly mishandled the outreach it did undertake.
“The Democratic Party ceded rural America to the Republicans quite some time ago,” said Vickie Rock, a member of the Nevada State Democratic Central Committee from rural Humboldt County. “They invested nothing, they built no bench. They don’t even send out signs anymore, which is a staple of rural politics.
“All Trump had to do was peel off a small percentage of urban votes, and he was going to win,” Rock said. “Because he already had, in his back pocket, rural America.”
Most of these rural strategists are now hatching plans to undo the damage, convinced that a handful of simple steps would go a long way toward winning votes. One longtime rural Democratic strategist from Massachusetts, Matt Barron, is trying to organize a conference call with New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, to talk about outreach strategies.
Some Democratic officials in rural areas are plotting runs for leadership in state parties, while other gurus say they will take it upon themselves to train a new generation of rural-friendly operatives. These kinds of efforts won’t solve the problem alone, the strategists readily acknowledge, but would at least help the party begin to understand how much ground it must make up.