Democratic Woes in Rural America Get Worse

It’s no surprise the party of the affluent, governmental elite and urban/suburban America would struggle in the other pocket of America: rural America. But, after 2018, Democrats had some hope their erosion during Obama had ended. Then 2020 hit and Trump almost won reelection solely on the power of these forgotten parts of America. Democrats had convinced themselves there is no possible way it could get worse. Well, it could, and it looks like it did.

In a little noticed Iowa Senate District special election – Republicans won the seat by 10 percentage points. The fact they won is not remarkable, the GOP has held the seat since 2010. What is remarkable is this is a seat that went Republican by less than a point in the GOP wave year of 2014 and little more than a point in a half in the Democratic wave of 2018. This go – round, the seat broke the trend and heavily broke Republican.

Specifically, the district was Senate District 41, nestled in Southeastern Iowa, encompassing the counties of Jefferson, Davis, Van Buren and Wapello. Trump won the district in both 16 and last year, and every county in both goes. But, it was not that long ago these were the kinds of counties Democrats routinely won (course, so was Iowa). Even if you go as far back as 2004, the last time a Republican had carried the state before Trump, John Kerry won two of the four counties by over 10 perent.

The bleeding of support by Democrats in rural America is not surprising. What is surprising, especially after the 2020 elections, is they seem to be falling even further and further behind, even in ancestrally Democratic areas. With Republicans likely to redraw the lines not just in Iowa (nominally a bipartisan commission does this there) and two dozen other states the fact rural America is becoming even redder makes it easier for the party to turn pink or light blue suburban seats into Republican seats by linking them with rural areas.

Additionally, the movement of rural areas into solid Republican territory means Democrats lose what little advantage they have in bad years when their urban/suburban support drops. Course, the same could be said of the GOP and its reliance on shrinking rural America.

In just over a month we will have another indication of just how far Democrats have fallen even in moderate rural areas with Maine’s 14th Senate District special election. The seat became vacant after State Senator Shenna Bellows was selected to serve as Secretary of State. The district encompasses the towns of Chelsea, East Winthrop, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Hallowell, Kents Hill, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, Randolph, Readfield, South Gardiner, West Gardiner, and Winthrop. Trump and Biden ran close to even in the district but Bellows won by over 12 percent meaning the swing in this district one way or the other could tell us something about 2022 and beyond.

But, even beyond these immediate elections, it is unclear if Democrats even know how to respond to their shrinkage in rural areas. The party is now culturally associated with elitism and cosmopolitan values which are persona non grata in rural areas. The 2020 elections showed in places as diverse as the blue – collar white working class Congressional District of Democrat IL – 17 to the working class majority Latino districts of South Texas, the party lost significant ground even as it made inroads in suburban enclaves. For all of Democrats talks about how they simply needed to discuss issues and talk with these voters it seems they did not like what they heard. As Democrats move forward in a post- Trump Presidency, the fact they continue to bleed support in rural America as they cater more to their urban base could cause them to lose power sooner rather than later.

  • Please note: This article was intended to go out last week.

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