If Democrats want to win back rural voters, there's only one way to do it

If Democrats want to win back rural voters, there's only one way to do it
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

And since you’re reading this at Bearing Arms, I bet you have a pretty good idea of what I think the answer is. Ready?

Agricultural-themed drag shows.

Okay, just kidding. Yes, if Democrats want to claw back any semblance of competitiveness and representation in rural America, they’re going to have to kiss the sweet, sweet cash of the gun control lobby goodbye and end their hostility to the Second Amendment that has become increasingly central to the party’s identity over the past three decades.

Even as recently as 2010, a full quarter of the Democrats in the U.S. House were rated “A” by the National Rifle Association, but those days are long gone. Less than 1% of the Democratic caucus voted against the ban on so-called assault weapons that cleared the House earlier this year, and rural voters know that the candidate with the “D” behind their name is going to be a reliable vote against their rights, even if they don’t make gun control a priority on the campaign trail.

I saw this in my own congressional district this year, where Democrat Josh Throneburg ended up getting a little more than 42% of the vote in VA-05, which sprawls from the suburbs of Richmond up past Charlottesville and all the way down to Danville on the Virginia/North Carolina border. It’s a safe Republican district, but Rep. Bob Good won by 18-points on a better-than-expected night for Democrats overall. I saw no mention of gun control in any news story quoting Throneburg, and he didn’t seem to make it a huge issue, but quietly tucked away on his campaign website you could discover that on board with creating a number of new criminal offenses out of our right to keep and bear arms, including banning permitless carry and passing a federal “red flag” law.

On Election Day, Throneburg won the progressive enclave of Charlottesville with an incredible 87% of the vote. It didn’t matter. He was crushed in rural county after rural county; Good had six counties where his margin of victory was 50-points, and seven more where he won by at least 30-points. The only other part of VA-05 that went for Throneburg was the portion of the city of Danville inside the district’s borders, and that was a much closer six-point win for the Democrat.

The rural numbers are just gruesome for lefties who know the party needs to compete in rural America:

  • Pittsylvania County – 75% Bob Good
  • Campbell County – 77% Bob Good
  • Powhatan County – 75% Bob Good
  • Hanover County – 70% Bob Good
  • Charlotte County – 69% Bob Good

These are the same counties that turned out in historic fashion and helped send Republicans to victory in all statewide elections last year, and a big reason for that enormous turnout was to deliver political payback to the Democrats who used their newfound majority in 2020 to ram through a host of gun control measures (though they failed in their attempt to impose a semi-auto ban on Virginians). These voters are simply not going to side with a candidate who believes that cracking down on law-abiding gun owners and criminalizing a fundamental right is the answer to addressing violent crime or has anything to do with “common sense gun safety.”

But are Democrats willing to give up the significant financial support of the gun control lobby and focus on things like community gun violence intervention programs and other ways to reduce crime that don’t involve turning the Second Amendment into a second-degree felony? No way.

Over at The Nation, the founders of the Democratic group Rural Urban Bridge Initiative offer some suggestions to Democrats for making inroads with rural America, but nowhere do they come close to telling candidates to ixnay the ungay ontrolcay alktay. In their larger report on Democratic messaging with the folks in the hinterlands, however, they do offer up a nugget of advice.

Among the bigger national issues, guns and abortion generally cannot be avoided on the campaign trail but must be discussed with respect for different points of view. As with most everything else, this begins with listening. In some instances, “agreeing to disagree’” is the best outcome achievable. This generally earns the candidate more respect than either a dogmatic insistence on their position, or avoidance of the issue by pivoting to more comfortable issues.

Hey look, I respected Josh Throneburg for running. He seemed like someone completely out of touch with the Fifth District, which is to be expected since he moved to Charlottesville just three years ago, but I saw him as a nice enough guy with bad ideas. It’s the bad ideas that prevented me from voting for him, not his personality or willingness to listen.

If Democrats want to bridge the urban/rural divide, they have to accept that it’s not a messaging problem. It’s a policy problem, and the biggest issue of all is the Democratic insistence that peaceable gun owners are the real problem when it comes to “gun violence.”

Honestly, I’d love to have a difficult choice when I walk into the voting booth on Election Day, especially since the Fifth District Republic Committee has not held an open primary for our congressional seat since 2018, choosing instead to go with a closed convention that denies the vast majority of voters in our district the opportunity to vote in what would be the most competitive race of the election cycle given the district’s conservative bent. Bob Good won the general election by 18 points, but I don’t know that would be the case in an open GOP primary.

Regardless, whoever the Republicans did pick would be a strong Second Amendment supporter, unlike the Democrats who keep trying to convince themselves that, if only they use the right messaging techniques, they can trick the rubes into voting for something they’re firmly against. It doesn’t really matter if you accuse us of caring more about our guns than kids or patronizingly express support for the Second Amendment and banning some of the most commonly-sold firearms in the same breath, we know what the Democratic Party stands for when it comes to our right to armed self-defense; they don’t believe it’s a right at all. And as long as that’s the case, the rural vote will never swing back in their favor.