There are experts who think that rural white people are so caught up in hot-button issues like guns, abortion and gays (which is clearly fading as more rural people learn to accept family members who’ve come out of the closet) that Democrats can never win in rural areas.
In Harvest the Vote: How Democrats Can Win Again in Rural America, Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, is here with a different view. Kleeb remembers that Democrats used to win rural areas only a couple of decades ago. She finds that Democrats are so weak now in the countryside because they don’t even show up in elections and they don’t even try to win votes.
Accepting that hot-button issues will divide the city and country mouse if you let them, Kleeb advises Democrats to focus instead on what unites ordinary Americans no matter where they live: education, healthcare, and fairness for the little guy against big corporations. The latter translates into support for family farms and preserving land from grabs by agribusiness and oil and gas companies.
Even immigration is not an issue that should bar Democrats from the countryside, since many small towns in the Midwest and West are now made up overwhelmingly of Latinos. And their white neighbors get along with immigrants, as well as their other neighbors who are African American and Native American, much better than big city liberals seem to think. In Kleeb’s experience, white country people are no more racist or bigoted than white people in cities or suburbs. This means that the countryside is not barred from joining a multicultural Democratic coalition.
Kleeb urges big city Democrats not to dismiss rural votes as unattainable, but to recognize that they can’t win without some rural support. To get that support, Kleeb makes a convincing case that Democratic leaders need to visit small towns and talk to farmers and their neighbors.