Even with a president as polarizing as this one, and even after a year where more than 30 House Republican defectors and retirees are moving away from his brand, Democrats are finding out that the path to 24 — the number of seats needed to win in 2018 to flip the House of Representatives — still runs straight through Trump country.
Of course it would be easy to point to districts such as Florida’s 27th, where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 20 percent and which has an incumbent Republican retiring. That may justify throwing all the DNC’s might — and money — at it. And even though those types of seats (held by Republicans in districts that voted for Clinton) account for 23 of the 24 needed, only eight of them are winnable (the eight districts that also voted for Obama in 2012). Which means the Democrats need to invest elsewhere — and it’s not in California or Texas. What the Democrats truly need is to engage in a difficult and ever-pressing practice of self-reflection.
Democrats for years have claimed that the party is a “big tent.” And in one case, they may have a point considering they have always extended their roof to cover voters who fall under the category of “fiscally conservative, socially progressive.” But still forgotten and waiting outside that tent are rural voters who fall under the category of “fiscally progressive, socially conservative.” This includes voters who believe in investing in public education and universal health care, but who are also pro-gun and pro-life.
For some reason, and for far too long, the DNC has ignored these voters and these districts and has time and again chosen not to invest in the Democrats running in them. As Vicky Hausman of the Forward Majority Super PAC puts it: “the amount (of money) that Democrats spent on Jon Ossoff’s race could be spent in Pennsylvania to win back five congressional seats.”
Which brings us to people like Terry Goodin in Indiana and Cheri Bustos in rural Illinois.
Haven’t heard of them? That’s the problem.
Terry Goodin, as self-described in a recent Politico article, is a “Bible-poundin’, aisle-runnin’ Pentecostal.” Cheri Bustos is a Pro-Life Catholic who also supported the Keystone Pipeline. Those descriptions don’t sound like the typical Democrat, but that in itself is the issue. For far too long, the Democratic Party has been slow to embrace these “socially conservative” and “fiscally progressive” Democrats. But that’s the only way to win back the House.
With all that being said, and as the Democratic Party begins this threading of the needle to stand unified in complete opposition to President Trump while simultaneously attempting to gain back seats in districts won by him, it may be more important for the DNC to realize that the Bustos/Goodin playbook won’t work everywhere.
For example, in Pennsylvania’s 15th Congressional District, investing in a Democrat who shares the same hardline immigration stance as Donald Trump would appear to be following the Bustos playbook. But within that district is a place called Allentown— a city where half its residents are Hispanic or Latino. Good luck.
If the Democratic Party truly wishes to de-relegate itself to only holding seats in big cities and college towns, they will need to become a true “big tent” and offer an olive branch — and money — to these forgotten rural Democrats. Go back to the drawing board, deny complacency and roll up your sleeves and hit the ground running in these rural towns.