Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report made a cogent observation in her weekly appearance on the PBS News Hours this past Monday. She noted that the House majority that Nancy Pelosi led when she first became Speaker in 2007 was far more diverse than the group of Democrats, now in a slim minority, that she will leave as their leader in January.
Walter’s observation may surprise you since the Democrats tout themselves as more diverse than ever. But that’s only true if we count diversity as skin color and gender identity. Actually, Walters said, the Democrats are now much more uniformly liberal and they come from a much smaller pool of districts concentrated in the Northeast and the West Coast and in major urban areas scattered around the country. Rural Democrats, once an important force in the party, are all but extinct.
Of the new Democratic House leadership, Hakeem Jeffries is from New York, Katherine Clark is from Massachusetts and Pete Aguliar is from California. In fact, Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer live within a mile of each other in Brooklyn. In the Democratic leadership, flyover country gets flown over.
This is the same party that abandoned Brad Pfaff and Tim Ryan. Pfaff lost the Third Congressional District in rural southwest Wisconsin held for two decades by Democrat Ron Kind while Ryan lost a Senate race in Ohio despite the fact that the Democrat connected well with rural and blue collar voters. In both cases, the national party gave them up for lost from the start and the national image of the party badly hurt their candidacies.
So, while I’m happy that Democrats avoided a blow out last month and while it’s a good thing that they’re moving on to younger leadership, I worry that the hidden story here is that the party continues its march toward becoming solely the party of people with college degrees living in urban areas and college towns.
Along those lines, it’s worth your time to read an unusually balanced and thoughtful story from the Associated Press which appeared in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal. The reporter visited St. Croix County and talked with rural residents who would be thought of, and sometimes self-identified, as right-wing extremists. Here’s what I thought was an especially insightful paragraph from that story:
He’s a complicated man. While even he admits he might accurately be called a right-wing extremist, he calls peaceful Black protesters “righteous” for taking to the streets after Floyd’s murder. He doubts there was fraud in the midterm elections. He drives a Tesla. He loves AC/DC and makes his own organic yogurt. In an area where Islam is sometimes viewed with open hostility, he’s a conservative Christian who says he’d back the area’s small Muslim community if they wanted to open a mosque here.
I’ve made this point over and over again because it’s central to the very purpose of this site: Democrats simply have to start winning again in at least some of rural America. That’s true because they can never take back control of legislatures in places like Wisconsin, even under fair maps, by appealing only to college educated voters in cities. Geography simply doesn’t allow it.
I wish Hakeem Jeffries were from Brooklyn, Wisconsin instead of the one in New York. But he is regarded as a moderate, or what passes for one these days, among Democrats in the House. He needs to understand that his first priority has to be to reclaim seats like Wisconsin’s Third District.