Why Democrats' plan to woo rural voters will fail

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The Washington Post reports that Democrats are launching a new push to court rural voters ahead of the midterms, with the Biden administration sending staffers from the Agriculture Department to the rural parts of five states to “help communities take advantage of federal resources including funds from the infrastructure law and the covid relief package” signed by Biden last year.

As the Post notes, all five states just happen to feature some big races this fall, including gun control activist Mark Kelly’s bid for a full six-year term as senator from Arizona. But what both the Post and the Biden administration fail to acknowledge is the fact that as long as the Democrats are the party of gun control, most rural voters are going to give them the cold shoulder.

Democrats have identified a range of reasons they’re winning ever-lower shares of the rural vote, from failing to campaign in rural communities to prioritizing issues that don’t animate rural voters to being unwilling to go on the offensive against Republican attacks.

“As Democrats, we’re getting beat up 24/7 on issues that are mostly cultural,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair who represents a largely rural district. “And rather than punch back and punch back harder, we just sit there and take it.”

Several remaining rural House seats held by Democrats are at risk this fall, even as the party works to win back some rural districts that slipped away in 2020. Rudy Salas, a California state assemblyman who’s challenging Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), said he’d won rural voters at the state level by tacking away from his party on some issues.

“I was the only Democrat to vote against the gas tax,” Salas said in a statement to the Early. “I’ve supported increasing oil production here in the Central Valley so we don’t get hit at the pump for importing so much foreign oil. I’ve also worked to lower drug prices on things like insulin because the people I represent are struggling to keep up with rising costs.”

The Democrats keep telling themselves that their desire to ban commonly-owned firearms and magazines and criminalize our Second Amendment rights isn’t costing them at the ballot box, but they’re deluding themselves. Take Maine state Sen. Chloe Maxmin, who the Post used as an example of a rural Democrat who’s been able to connect with voters.

Rural voters are not listened to,” said Maxmin, who wrote a forthcoming book with her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, on wooing back rural voters. “They’re not heard. Their voices are not integrated into the Democratic Party. And so why should they listen to us?”

What advice does she have for Democrats trying to win in rural areas this fall?

Knock on as many doors as they can, she said.

“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve showed up at a house and just the simple fact that I drove down someone’s dirt driveway, knocked on their door, left my cell phone number — it’s just that basic act of showing up wins votes,” she said.

Maybe that’s the case, but I think the fact that Maxmin isn’t out there talking up the need for more gun control makes her more palatable to voters in the Constitutional Carry state of Maine. According to Gun Owners of Maine’s 2020 voter guide, Maxmin received a grade of “B”; not great, but far better what most Democrats around the country would earn based on their support for new gun laws. My guess is that Maxim could knock on every door in her district but would still lose if she was running a campaign based on, say, repealing the state’s permitless carry law.

Showing up matters, but what you believe in matters more, and the Democratic Party believes that more restrictions on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans are desperately needed. That’s simply a dealbreaker for many rural voters, and it’s a big reason why Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe couldn’t even pull in 20% of the vote in many rural counties last fall. Unless and until Democrats are ever willing to drop their attacks on the Second Amendment (and the millions of dollars in campaign funds from gun control groups) I don’t see that changing, and I expect that the midterm elections will be a brutal reminder of the fact that Democrats are simply not trusted by many rural voters, and for good reason.

Jun 27, 2022 11:30 AM ET