It’s kinda weird, but to win districts you actually have to show up in them (boldface mine):
The successful cycles of 2006, where Democrats flipped the U.S. House and 2008, where they added to their congressional wins by re-taking the Oval Office (thanks in no small measure to then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean’s 50-state strategy), included victories in rural precincts thanks to aggressive competition for rural votes.
The House Democratic Rural Working Group and the Senate Rural Outreach arms of the Democrat’s steering and policy committees were critical pieces of messaging infrastructure designed to listen to and communicate with folks in the nation’s hinterlands. Entities like the Obama Agriculture & Rural Policy Committee (full disclosure – I was an active and charter member), not only produced a comprehensive Rural Plan but helped bring that vision to life in the 2008 presidential race with full-throated constituency outreach to small towns and rural communities.
After the disastrous 2010 midterms, things began to change. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid dismantled their rural policy shops, and Obama never pushed to keep a rural voter component at the DNC. At the party campaign committees, outreach desks were created for almost every minority, ethnic and interest group except geographic minorities. In the states, most state parties had no rural caucus and the handful that did were given no support in financial or human capital. This lack of basic rural electoral infrastructure started to cost the Democrats more losses in 2012 and 2014. At this summer’s Democratic convention in Philadelphia, pleas from a Pennsylvania U.S. House candidate for Democrats to embrace rural voters’ values fell on deaf ears.
This probably cost the Democrats three Senate seats, which, given current events, looms rather large at the moment (boldface mine):
If white working class voters and rural folks distrusted Clinton (e-mail server), thought she was a flip-flopper (being against ethanol and biofuels as a senator and then for them once she made her White House runs), and found her not relatable to them (more comfy giving six-figure speeches to Wall Street executives), it was the Senate races where Democrats’ failure to engage on issues near and dear to those in the countryside wound up costing them dearly.
Going into this cycle, there was reason for some optimism at retaking the upper chamber of Congress that was lost in the “Dempocalypse” that was the 2014 midterms. The Democrats had the map to their advantage, had recruited some solid candidates to challenge Republicans and in Senator Jon Tester, had a farmer from Big Sandy, Montana, running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. There was some hope that the abysmal records on an array of issues directly affecting rural voters by GOP incumbents would get exposed. It was not to be.
In Arizona, U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick led Senator John McCain 43 percent to 39 percent among rural voters in a Rocky Mountain Poll from April 15, 2016. Kirkpatrick’s House district is majority-rural (52.4%) and she sits on the Agriculture and Transportation & Infrastructure Committees, so she should be intimately familiar with the meat and potato issues that come before these panels that hit rural Arizona. But instead of going after McCain’s horrific rural record (which Obama used to his advantage in 2008), against farmers and ranchers (opposing multiple Farm Bills over the years), his votes to kill rural broadband and rural air service and against several highway bills, she gulped the DSCC Kool Aid and made McCain’s opposition to a new Supreme Court justice a centerpiece of her campaign. Worse, in 2011, McCain led the effort in the Senate to obliterate rural postal service by doing away with Saturday mail delivery and closing thousands of rural post offices across the nation. If you don’t live near a pharmacy and you are part of the 80 percent of rural Arizonans who lack rural broadband, then you depend on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your medications and magazines. Kirkpatrick never mentioned this issue in her campaign let alone cut a radio spot to drive it home. By autumn, her lead had slipped and McCain won handily by 12 points. Kirkpatrick won only four rural counties and among the rural counties she lost – four were in her own Arizona-1st district.
One thing to note is that the national Democratic committees do provide resources, but these resources have strings attached:
Yes, you get money, both directly from the party as well as access to Democratic donors. But that money comes with strings: it often must be spent on party-backed campaign advisors and consultants, who have a playbook of political strategems. That said consultants suck at their jobs is painfully obvious, but this is also leads to a lot of cronyism. As long as these apparatchiks can convince party leadership that their methods are sound, they can stay on the gravy train. While you might think this would be difficult given poor Democratic performance, most of these advisors work on the campaigns of the leadership and thus are trusted–after all, it works for the leadership. Until, of course, it doesn’t.
It’s not that Democrats have to or can win rural counties, especially dominantly white ones. But we do have to show strongly there–we need some votes from these places. And to get these votes, you have to have policies that appeal to people: as we like to say here, people have to like this crap.
And a half-way competent party should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time: there’s no reason why we have to choose between urban and rural issues.