Tag: rural voters

For Democrats, winning over rural voters isn’t as simple as talking to a few rural people

For a number of years, Kathy Cramer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying rural resentment towards Democrats and political elites, and seems to be one of only a handful of people who understand why Democrats are so awful at winning over rural voters in Wisconsin.

Recently, Cramer studied Donald Trump’s appeal to rural voters in Wisconsin, and you can read her findings at the end of this article by Jessie Opoien (last name pronounced oh-POY-en) of the Madison-based newspaper The Cap Times. Another thing that I enjoyed reading about in the article is Cramer’s epic response to a person who volunteered for the failed Hillary Clinton presidential campaign:

After Cramer presented her findings, a woman in the audience who said she had volunteered in Madison on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign asked Cramer what advice she would give Democrats on how to talk to the people in rural areas who voted for Trump.

“It’s not speaking to people,” Cramer said. “It will require just spending time with people and asking them, ‘What’s on your mind?’ for months — then trying to deliver a message.”

If winning over rural voters was a simple as talking to a few rural voters here and there, we’d still have Pat Quinn as governor here in Illinois. Obviously, that’s not the case. For Democrats to win over rural voters across the country, Democrats are going to start needing to emphasize agricultural policy proposals designed to give farmers a fair price for their crops and find other ways to connect with rural voters without alienating the progressive urban base of the party. Even better, Democrats should try to use rural resentment to their advantage by trying to paint Republicans as the party of urban and suburban political elites.

While there are several candidates that political insiders have floated as potential Democratic candidates for Governor of Wisconsin in 2018 (such as State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Former State Senator Tim Cullen, U.S. Representative Ron Kind, State Representative Dana Wachs, and Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, just to name a few), I’ve wondered for some time whether or not Kathy Cramer would be a good candidate for a statewide race in Wisconsin, such as governor or lieutenant governor. Given that she seems to know how Democrats can win over rural voters (or at least enough rural voters to win a statewide race in states like Wisconsin), I think that she could be a great candidate for a statewide race in Wisconsin. However, I highly doubt that Cramer would even consider the idea of running for public office.

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Democratic Party of Wisconsin officials release the party’s own autopsy

A 22-member Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) committee, led by DPW Second Vice-Chairman Jeff Christensen, released its own internal report on the 2014 midterm elections in Wisconsin yesterday. You can read the full report here; it’s a 14-page PDF file.

According to the DPW Administrative Committee, here’s what I’ve interpreted as being the main points in the report:

  • Since 1990, Wisconsin has become an extremely polarized state, with a very strong two-party system and the top-of-the-ticket race in November general elections in Wisconsin having a huge impact on downballot races.
  • The DPW should provide more support to candidates in officially non-partisan local elections in order to build a bench of Democratic candidates for state legislative and statewide elections.
  • The DPW shouldn’t meddle in contested primaries unless it has a very good reason to do so (such as scenarios involving known Republicans/conservatives running in a Democratic primary or a candidate who is clearly unfit for public office running in a Democratic primary).
  • The DPW leadership should explain its proper role in the political process and management of the party more effectively.
  • The Republicans’ message in Wisconsin is to effectively paint the Democrats as the “party of government”, even if Democrats aren’t in power.
  • Democrats should rebut the Republicans’ talking points more effectively.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin have focused too much on attacking Scott Walker and not enough on promoting a positive message of any kind.
  • To use terminology that was used in the report, Democrats in Wisconsin have “played nice in the sandbox”, leading to Democratic candidates who are too defensive.
  • While Democrats should focus heavily on tailoring a positive message to rural voters, both rural and urban voters in Wisconsin regard education, infrastructure, and jobs as three important issues.
  • Election fatigue is becoming a major problem among Democratic activists/volunteers in Wisconsin.
  • In regards to the DPW’s field operations, the DPW should find various ways to optimize voter turnout.
  • Three programs created as part of the “72-county strategy”, regional field organizers, Spring Forward (support for known Democrats running in officially non-partisan local elections in Wisconsin), and Red-to-Blue (support for Democratic state legislative candidates in Republican-leaning or heavily-Republican areas of Wisconsin) should be expanded.
  • The most important point of the report is that “the path to a new progressive era (in Wisconsin) is entirely possible”.

While some of these points are specific to Wisconsin, some of the points also apply to state-level Democratic parties in other states as well.

The report strongly suggested that the DPW should run statewide candidates who can run on a positive, progressive message, as well as relate to both urban and rural voters. However, the report didn’t suggest any potential statewide candidates for future elections in Wisconsin, and there aren’t that many Democrats in Wisconsin who could pull off such a campaign. Lori Compas, who was the recall organizer and Democratic candidate in the 2012 recall attempt against Republican State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, is the first person that comes to mind for me. However, I don’t think that Compas is interested in running for public office again at all. The second person who comes to my mind is Kathleen Vinehout, a state senator from the west-central part of Wisconsin who was the third-place candidate in the 2012 Democratic primary in the gubernatorial recall election. Vinehout nearly ran for governor last year, but injuries sustained in an automobile crash prevented her from running for governor. There’s probably a few others out there as well.

Additionally, while the DPW’s report didn’t touch on any of these points at all, I do have several suggestions of my own:

  • Democrats in Wisconsin should run against income inequality, preferably by using “1% vs. 99%” messaging and supporting ideals such as raising taxes on the wealthy and ending tax breaks and other forms of corporate welfare for businesses.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin should run on progressive ideas and values, and, even more importantly, they should explain how progressive policies would benefit all or the vast majority of people.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin should stop speaking favorably of Republicans, as well as stop ignoring and criticizing progressives.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin should emphasize restoring local control to counties and municipalities over issues that are best dealt with at the local level.
  • Progressive-minded Democrats in Wisconsin should, as much as possible, distance themselves from fellow Democrats who are opposed to progressive ideals and values on many issues, most notably Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
  • Democrats in Wisconsin, should, if possible, use the own words of Republican elected officials and candidates against them.

One thing is clear from the DPW’s autopsy: The DPW, in its current state, is one of the weakest state-level Democratic Party organizations in the entire country. A Second Progressive Era in Wisconsin is certainly obtainable, although it’s going to require progressives to hold the DPW leadership accountable to many of the points they made in their own report on the 2014 elections, as well as require Democrats to run progressive candidates who can appeal to a wide coalition of voters.