A group of Democratic politicians from Midwestern states is calling on the party to change or face a minority for years to come.
“The number of Democrats holding office across the nation is at its lowest point since the 1920s and the decline has been especially severe in rural America,” Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat, wrote in a new report.
After years of dominance in state and local offices, eight midwestern states turned solidly red around the time of President Donald Trump’s defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton, and Democrats have lost their authority.
“Hope from the Heartland: How Democrats Can Better Serve the Midwest by Bringing Rural, Working Class Wisdom to Washington,” a report compiled by Cher PAC, an organization for Bustos, offers suggestions for how Democrats could accomplish such a feat.
Busto’s report includes interviews with 72 Democratic politicians from “the Heartland” — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin — who have won local and statewide elections despite the GOP sweep of the rural Midwest.
At the national level, midwestern Democrats appear to be doing fine: 10 of the 16 U.S. senators from heartland states are Democratic, but the report warns that after 2016, “the rural vote in states like Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana will be critical in determining whether Democrats hold those seats.”
To regain influence in the Midwest in 2018 and beyond, Democrats must change their messaging, focus on jobs and the economy, reach out to Midwestern voters more and adapt campaigns to rural America, Bustos, who is up for reelection in 2018, says in the report.
One of the big problems is that Democrats seem to be most interested in national identity politics driven by urban centers than reflecting values of voters in rural areas.
“We say we’re diverse and tolerant, but we’re really not tolerant of certain groups,” said former Democratic Indiana state Rep. Dennie Oxley, according to the report.
“The Democratic brand is hugely damaged, and it’s going to take a while to bring it back,” Illinois state Rep. Jerry Costello Jr., also a Democrat, said. “Democrats in southern Illinois have been more identified by bathrooms than by putting people back to work.”
The big policy areas Democrats should focus on to attract rural voters to, or back to, the Democrats are infrastructure, education, small
business, economic and national, agriculture, and reducing government waste, according to the report.
“If we don’t get this right in the next two cycles, we’re done,” Robin Johnson, a consultant and adviser to Bustos told Politico, adding that the report is “a cold reality check.”
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