Behind Biden win...a warning for Democrats

FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2020, file photo people watch as the motorcade for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives for a campaign rally at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2020, file photo people watch as the motorcade for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives for a campaign rally at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

2020 victory hides weaknesses in rural America.

Posted: Nov 27, 2020 7:15 AM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democrats once dominated Koochiching County in the blue-collar Iron Range of northern Minnesota. But in this month's presidential election, President Donald Trump won it with 60% of the vote.

That's not because voters there are suddenly shifting to the right, said Tom Bakk, who represents the area in the state Senate. It's because, he said, Democrats have steadily moved too far to the left for many rural voters.

“We’ve got to see if we can get the Democratic Party to moderate and accept the fact that rural Minnesota is not getting more conservative,” said Bakk, who announced last week that he would become an independent after serving 25 years as a Democrat. "It’s that you guys are leaving them behind.”

While Democrats powered through cities and suburbs to reclaim the White House, the party slid further behind in huge rural swaths of northern battlegrounds. The party lost House seats in the Midwest, and Democratic challengers in Iowa, Kansas, Montana and North Carolina Senate races, all once viewed as serious threats to Republican incumbents, fell, some of them hard.

Though Democrats’ rural woes aren’t new, they now heap pressure on Biden to begin reversing the trend. Failure to do so endangers goals such as curbing climate change and winning a Senate majority, especially with GOP Senate seats in Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin up in 2022.

“The pressure for Democrats has to be on conveying an economic message for rural America,” said Iowa Democrat John Norris, a former candidate for governor. “We have a great one to convey, but we haven’t put enough emphasis on it.”

It has become a defining dynamic in almost every state where Democrats dominate urban areas and, for at least two elections, have clear momentum in the suburbs.

While Trump sought to squeeze more out of his mostly white, working-class base, he made little ground in places he barely won or lost in 2016, and slid in suburbs across the industrial and agricultural north. Instead, he supercharged his focus on places he won big last times.

Trump lost Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, after winning all three in 2016. But he won at least 60% of the vote in 126 counties in the three — 14 more than in 2016, according to Associated Press and state elections data. All of those counties are lightly populated.

Perhaps more telling, Trump increased his winning percentages in 90% of the counties where he reached the 60% mark in those three states four years ago. That includes all 24 counties where he won at least 70% of the vote last time, even while Biden was vastly outspending Trump on advertising.

The rural runaway was even greater in Iowa and Ohio, where polls late in October gave Biden's campaign hopes of a close race or narrow win, only to see him lose them by the same margins Clinton did.

Trump's greater dominance in rural Ohio surprised even Republican strategists. In Ohio's 6th Congressional District, 18 counties that hug the Pennsylvania border and Ohio River, Trump improved from 64% of the vote to more than 66%.

“I'll be the first to say I was doubtful President Trump could exceed what he did in 2016,” said Ryan Steubenrauch, a senior adviser to 6th District Republican Rep. Bill Johnson.

Though Biden fulfilled Democrats' long-sought goal of carrying Georgia and Arizona, albeit narrowly, it wasn't because he concentrated on reaching beyond their metro hubs, said Steve Jarding, a veteran Democratic strategist who has long argued for greater party engagement in rural America.

“Democrats have found a way to win in the country, at least they believe this to be the case, by not concentrating much in big parts of the middle of the country," he said. “That's a scary proposition.”

Jarding worries that by winning Arizona, Georgia and the northern swing states without addressing the rural economy, Democrats might believe the states are now trending their way as the result of favorable population and demographic shifts.

“We didn't win Georgia because we had a great message to rural Georgians,” said Jarding, who helped Mark Warner win the Virginia governorship in 2001 by advising him to campaign aggressively far from the booming Washington, D.C., suburbs. “If Democrats say, look, we got into Georgia and we won it without having to talk about rural issues, they are dead wrong. It will flip back."

In clinging to their majority, House Democrats lost rural seats, notably the one held for 30 years by Rep. Collin Peterson in western Minnesota. The setbacks prompted accusations from moderates that the party's prominent liberals, such as New York Rep. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, had become representative of a party foreign to America's farming and small manufacturing towns.

“I would argue everyone talks about the big tent. It’s not as big as it used to be,” Minnesota's Bakk said.

Biden campaigned little in person, even less in rural areas. Trump, on the other hand, whipped up enthusiasm at rallies in places like Wausau, Wisconsin, in the state's rural north where he dominated, as well as Saginaw in Mid Michigan, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, surrounded by counties he carried by more than 70%, even 80%.

Democrats also spent little time and money combatting Trump's attacks.

Unanswered, Trump's claims that Biden and other Democrats are proponents of socialism and eliminating police departments, as unfounded as they were, resonated in small towns, according to VoteCast, an Associated Press survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

“We have to address this in a really more aggressive way,” said veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, especially Trump's claims that Democrats are anti-police. “There were some serious kind of headwinds there.”

Democrats need to not just defend against attacks but recruit more candidates among rural Americans and argue that progressive policy is to their advantage.

“We obviously have a brand problem in rural America,” said former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat defeated in 2018. “But if you want to be an alternative, you can't go there empty-handed.”

Heitkamp credits Biden for including specifically rural provisions in his policy plans, such as a transportation component in his health care proposal, considering many people in sparsely populated areas must travel some distance to see a doctor.

For now, Democrats' future in rural America rests largely on how Biden is viewed there, Heitkamp said.

“A good way to start out would be to make sure in his inaugural speech and state of the union, he talks about rural America,” she said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 446380

Reported Deaths: 5995
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin927471474
Ramsey39820736
Dakota32876338
Anoka30877363
Washington20066227
Stearns17813187
St. Louis13609241
Scott1191796
Wright11570104
Olmsted1041375
Sherburne818965
Carver692436
Clay650280
Rice604168
Kandiyohi553471
Blue Earth538933
Crow Wing481374
Otter Tail454466
Chisago450832
Benton418685
Winona387246
Douglas373466
Nobles368746
Mower363329
Goodhue345358
Polk327956
McLeod324245
Morrison311144
Beltrami309447
Lyon300636
Becker284139
Itasca284043
Isanti281641
Carlton278543
Steele27229
Pine266013
Freeborn243420
Todd231630
Nicollet223836
Brown214534
Mille Lacs213646
Le Sueur208815
Cass207323
Meeker199233
Waseca188916
Wabasha16953
Martin169326
Roseau165416
Hubbard149238
Redwood139527
Renville137139
Houston135613
Dodge13384
Chippewa130932
Cottonwood126818
Fillmore12245
Wadena119616
Rock109712
Sibley10837
Aitkin107633
Watonwan10638
Faribault104616
Pennington98815
Kanabec97418
Pipestone93923
Yellow Medicine93514
Murray8785
Jackson85210
Swift83118
Pope7375
Marshall70315
Stevens6978
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65716
Lake63215
Wilkin6229
Koochiching59310
Lincoln4821
Big Stone4553
Unassigned43668
Grant4298
Norman4238
Mahnomen4107
Kittson37219
Red Lake3164
Traverse2503
Lake of the Woods1901
Cook1140

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 303464

Reported Deaths: 4269
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk45396448
Linn17695274
Scott15387163
Black Hawk13659236
Woodbury12953175
Johnson1204749
Dubuque11312150
Pottawattamie8942112
Dallas882171
Story863834
Webster467571
Cerro Gordo463568
Sioux453756
Clinton448861
Warren438838
Marshall425761
Buena Vista391929
Muscatine386777
Des Moines380941
Plymouth348968
Wapello341698
Jasper320458
Lee314430
Marion302152
Jones270449
Henry263430
Carroll253434
Bremer242248
Crawford228522
Boone216417
Washington214531
Benton208844
Jackson191131
Mahaska190736
Tama185857
Dickinson184226
Delaware172336
Kossuth171343
Clay166019
Wright163024
Fayette160022
Buchanan158323
Hamilton157929
Winneshiek155119
Harrison154762
Hardin154229
Cedar151819
Clayton150748
Butler146824
Page143715
Cherokee138227
Floyd138036
Mills136016
Lyon133832
Poweshiek132424
Hancock129024
Allamakee126927
Iowa123922
Calhoun12209
Grundy120226
Jefferson119524
Madison11899
Winnebago118529
Mitchell115734
Louisa114330
Cass112641
Chickasaw110612
Sac110615
Emmet110331
Appanoose109838
Union108122
Humboldt104219
Guthrie102424
Franklin101618
Shelby101426
Unassigned9160
Palo Alto9019
Keokuk84325
Montgomery84022
Howard82819
Monroe80818
Clarke7847
Pocahontas77211
Ida74030
Davis68921
Greene6887
Adair68620
Lucas6488
Osceola6349
Monona63316
Worth5993
Taylor5919
Fremont5046
Van Buren49412
Decatur4804
Ringgold4269
Wayne41421
Audubon4118
Adams2953
Rochester/St. Mary'S
Cloudy
21° wxIcon
Hi: 25° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 14°
Mason City
Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 25° Lo: 17°
Feels Like: 10°
Albert Lea
Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 19°
Austin
Cloudy
19° wxIcon
Hi: 22° Lo: 18°
Feels Like: 13°
Charles City
Cloudy
16° wxIcon
Hi: 24° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 5°
A big temperature swing is on the way
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events