Rural, Red-state Dems Say: Don’t Forget About Us

Rural, Red-state Dems Say: Don’t Forget About Us


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Democrats have begun crafting a legislative agenda with control of the US House, while others are fanning out across the country seeking the nomination to run for president.

But Democrats from rural and red-state America are asking their national leaders to talk to voters in these regions with “common sense” solutions to the nation’s problems.

“I think any of the candidates can appeal to that radical middle. I think that what we need to be looking at is the same thing I kind of ran on in 2017, and that is the kitchen table issues,” says Sen. Doug Jones, the first Democrat to win a US Senate seat from Alabama in more than 20 years and who faces an uphill re-election fight next year. “It is about health care, and you can debate Medicare for all, you can debate tweaking the Affordable Care Act, you can talk about public options. But the debate, I mean, the discussion about health care is, I think, a driving issue for all Americans, and that’s where — I think that’s going to be a really big issue. I see a lot of that coming up.

“I think wages — we need to get wages up, whether that means increasing them in minimum wage, or just simply  working to make sure that people, and these manufacturers, and these businesses do that on their own,” Jones adds. “However it comes up, I think there’s a lot of ways that we can work.”

Whomever ultimately becomes the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee must be able to compete anywhere and everywhere, according to Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat whose state of Pennsylvania typically votes Democratic for president but narrowly went to Donald Trump in 2016.

“Well, the challenge is that the nominee of our party–and I think we’ll arrive at a nominee who can do this–has to be able to compete not only in urban areas and suburban communities but has to get some share of what I would call rural and small town Pennsylvania,” Casey says. “And you’ve got to be able to do both. I think our nominee will be able to do that.”

Pete Buttigieg–the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president–says it’s not necessarily a matter of “centrist” policies, but how to talk about policies which are more progressive.

For instance, Buttigieg cites the example of the “Green New Deal,” the expansive progressive proposal to take on climate change. In that case, there has been talk of eliminating cattle due to the methane emissions from their flatulence.

Those kinds of ideas are “vulnerable to being caricatured” by political opponents, the way conservatives once used the concept of “death panels” against Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, Buttigieg says.

Democrats need make sure they are discussing and solving climate change in an inclusive manner, he says.

“I enjoy going down to get a cheeseburger in South Bend. I just want to not have the city flooded while I’m on my way there, right? And there’s a common sense way of talking about this that I think people, regardless of ideology, at least most people can get,” Buttigieg says.

“You know, it’s not written in stone that the middle of the country has to be conservative,” he adds. “I mean, much of the best American progressive tradition comes from the middle of the country. You got — it goes all the way to back to John Brown in Kansas, you think about William Jennings Bryan from the middle of the country, Eugene Debs, outright socialist from Indiana. So it’s not that a certain part of the country has to be right or has to be left.

“It’s that we have to explain these things in terms that remind everybody what’s at stake, and I would argue that in an agricultural area, so you know, my part of the country, we got a lot of corn and soy,” Buttigieg adds. “We have a whole lot at stake in these issues and we need to have the vocabulary and the argument be about that, not about farting cows.”

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