Rural America, GOP Stronghold
Democrats have deliberately cast aside “flyover country” as a deplorable place.
Last week’s election results in Virginia and elsewhere predicted a bleak future for the Democrat Party beyond just next year’s midterms. Sure, Joe Biden is a historically inept president and Democrats vastly overreached, and their congressional majorities are in severe jeopardy because of it. But we already knew this. What wasn’t entirely evident until recently though was that Democrats have completely lost touch with rural America. And that could be a long-term problem.
In the Virginia governor’s race, Republican Glenn Youngkin pulled in greater than 70% of the vote in 45 of the state’s 95 counties and greater than 80% in 15. Most of these counties are in rural areas of the state. Outside of Virginia’s leftist strongholds, Democrat Terry McAuliffe never stood a chance.
The media is only just now coming to this conclusion, but some Democrats have been raising alarms about the party’s diminishing returns in rural America for years. Former North Dakota Senator Heide Heitkamp sees “an institutional failure that the Democratic Party has had in the last how many years of not paying attention to rural America.” She should know. Heitkamp was soundly defeated for reelection in 2018 by Republican Kevin Cramer.
Democrats have focused for 20 years on the inroads they made in urban areas among minorities and wealthy, college-educated whites with their patented brand of class warfare and race-baiting. Counting on an increasingly urbanized population, the party turned its back on rural America, figuring it could run the electoral table on urban regions alone. Once it was assumed that Democrats didn’t need rural voters to win national elections, they did more than turn their back on rural America completely. They discarded it.
Rural Americans were more than expendable in the eyes of Democrats. They were the enemy — the gun-toting, Bible-clutching masses standing in the way of social(ist) progress. The “deplorables.” The media grew rife with mean-spirited caricatures of rural Americans, portrayals that, if they had been aimed at a protected group under the leftist umbrella, would have been canceled as racist. But none of this mattered to Democrats. They could seize federal power and not have to worry about making concessions to rural residents.
This conceit was flawed on many levels. Nearly 30% of the electorate is rural, and rural voters hold more influence than one might think. Their votes in local elections influence the makeup of state legislatures and the direction of gubernatorial and congressional elections. Democrats were able to run the electoral table in 2008 and 2012 because the GOP ran squishy presidential candidates, not because people wanted what the Left was selling. The large rural electorate was not engaged and refused to vote for candidates who were less than sincere about their conservative, small-government bona fides. In 2016, rural voters did more than elect Donald Trump and shock an arrogant, myopic Hillary Clinton. They reminded the national parties that they are present, and they intend to be heard.
Democrats have watched the gains they made in suburban and rural districts in the Barack Obama years steadily melt away since 2016. Trump energized the rural base not with promises of handouts but with belief in themselves and in America. He recognized that rural America was getting railroaded by an increasingly centralized, bureaucratized government that was pushing the antithesis of everything they believed in. And even with Trump out of the picture, the rural electorate remains engaged to turn back the tide of progressivism being foisted on the country. Last week’s results in Virginia prove it. They can succeed as long as Republican candidates continue to speak to their concerns and put faith in the same thing rural voters do — a republic that has worked for nearly 250 years.
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