by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
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.