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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Some Elements of a Winning ‘Rural Strategy’ for Dems

Cartney McCracken, a partner at Control Point Group, a D.C.-based Democratic consulting firm, has a post, “A Rural Strategy for Democrats,” up at Campaigns & Elections, which merits a thoughtful read. McCracken’s lede:

After a string of losses in the 2017 special House elections, it’s clear Democratic candidates are continuing to struggle reaching rural voters. That’s partly because our playbook for appealing to voters outside of urban areas remains unchanged: take a poll, repackage the DNC’s national messaging and target voters with mail and advertising. The problem is many rural voters become alienated when campaigns attempt to micro-target using messaging distilled from a national or statewide poll.

Rural America has plenty of voters who are more politically-astute than what is too often suggested by Democratic boilerplate propaganda. Reaching persuadable rural voters requires a little more thought — and respect. As McCracken observes:

Rural voters who have seen factories shuddered over the past 15 years want to talk about jobs, not economic development. Economic development is a Beltway term that they hear on the nightly news and campaign ads. These voters want to know what the candidate can do to address farm issues, cell phone signal, and broadband internet access. Rural voters want to know what a candidate can do to fix broken roads and keep the cost of gas and milk down.

…To appeal to rural voters, Democrats need to be where rural voters are — the grocery store, the gas station in a one-stop-light town, advertising on terrestrial radio and in local newspapers. Micro-targeted digital ads sound great to consultants, but they’re not nearly as effective as shoe-leather campaigning in rural areas.

…These voters do go to the grocery store, they have post office boxes where they pick up their mail, and they need to refill their gas tanks. These voters are reliable visitors to the county fairs and ramp dinners. Democratic candidates need to be at these places listening to voters’ concerns. These optics persuade rural voters better than a mail piece with the candidate wearing a barn jacket.

“If Democrats want to have any chance of taking back state legislatures, the House, or the Senate in 2018,” concludes McCracken, “we must re-engage the rural vote in person and in messaging. Meet these rural voters where they go, speak with them rather than at them, and incorporate these conversations into messaging that matters.”

Polling data and media outreach are essential tools for connecting with persuadable rural voters. But there is no substitute for showing up in person with a solid understanding of their concerns  —  to really show that a candidate cares. Let the Republicans dodge the town halls in small-town America. That’s not a luxury Dermocrats can afford, if they want to get some traction outside the cities and suburbs of the nation.

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