Yes, Virginia, there are progressives in rural America
Election Day 2018 was a significant success for Democratic Party efforts nationwide, capturing the U.S. House and several governorships, along with other statewide offices around the country. You’d think with this result, we’d be praising success, talking about how to replicate it, and looking at ways to tweak and improve.
Instead, as is typical, we have spent a lot of our time wringing our hands and wondering how, exactly, we could do better, combined with assumptions of why, exactly, we didn’t succeed in races that we had hoped to prevail in.
Along with this handwringing has come a new call, often by former elected officials, to look seriously at the Democratic Party and contend that the answer is we are losing rural communities and trend red districts because, by gosh, the party is simply too liberal and progressive. So the answer is to come up with a way to be, well, less liberal and progressive.
In an interview with NPR, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill decried the fact that the party has imposed hard rules, which, in her view, make it difficult to attract voters to moderate candidates. What McCaskill doesn’t point out is that in 2016 Jason Kander, who ran a far more progressive campaign, performed just as well—and often better—in rural counties throughout the state.
Both candidates lost, and a presidential year does have an uptick, but if the reason rural voters stayed away was that they were upset with a progressive message, it would stand to reason that a progressive campaign would significantly underperform a moderate one. That simply didn’t happen. Why? Because this common wisdom, that rural areas are packed with Democratic voters who want socially conservative candidates, is a combination of hype, bunk, and a little bit of salesmanship. What it isn’t, however, is a recipe for success.