Hope from the Heartland
If democrats in the midwest want to bounce back from the disastrous election of 2016, they have to show up and listen. That's one of the main conclusions of a report titled, "Hope from the Heartland: How Democrats Can Better Serve the Midwest by Bringing Rural, Working Class Wisdom to Washington."
Herb Trix reports.
The report was a joint project of Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and Robin Johnson, a political science lecturer at Monmouth College.
Johnson said he got the initial idea from talking with a friend who serves in the Iowa senate.
"We were talking about local elections at the state legislative level, and how democrats could do better and the issues addressed and how campaigns are run at the local level in rural areas. And I got the idea that might be an interesting project to undertake because in reviewing the 2016 election there were a lot of stories coming out of the Beltway press, talking to people in the midwest which is where the election was decided on how the switch came in some of the key states, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, where a lot these counties went from voting for Obama twice to Trump. Of course Iowa led the nation in the number of those counties.
So with Bustos' support he started contacting people in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. He ended up talking with 72 current and former state legislators.
"They feel the national party brand has been damaged by focusing on issues that aren't of interest to people in rural areas. The people who are running and successfully holding office in rural areas felt like the party needs to focus on jobs, schools, health care, on roads - issues that impact them."
Johnson says another way to look at it is - people were looking for someone different. And the two candidates who energized voters were Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders -
"Because they spoke plainly, You might not have liked what they said but there weren't any of those talking points and the pre-conceived political language that people use. And I especially think in the midwest, which is where the focus of our report was - you know we've been hurt by the impact of globalization. It's had some benefits as well but with a lof of these factories closing in Galesburg and across the midwest, I don't think people felt like they were being heard - they were angry - they weren't seeing the benefits of globalization and they were carrying a lof ot the downsides of it."
And he emphasizes the importance of democrats working from "the bottom up," at the local level, instead of taking direction from Washington and national party leaders.
"I think part of the problem has been the democrats, especially at the national level, they're not showing up. They're not listening and part of it is just being there - showing up, listening, and showing that you care. And it's been a lopsided argument I think in the past 8 years or so. And I think one thing democrats have to do starting out is just show up - go to these rural areas, listen - yes there are cultural differences on issues like guns, and yes there are going to be disagreements but I think there's opportunity there just to show up and listen, and understand where these foks are coming from. "
And since the report's release, Johnson says he's been hearing from local candidates who want his advice on how to appeal to rural voters in their districts.
At Monmouth College, he teaches a course called "Politics and Government in the Midwest."