How’s the (Rural) Campaigns Going?

It’s just about the 4th… The endorsing conventions and candidate filing is in most cases over, we’re into parade season, and hopefully everyone is meeting and exceeding their fundraising goals. Time to take a look around, and reflect at how we’re doing at building the democratic majorities in rural districts.

I live in southwest Minnesota hard up against the South Dakota border, 180 miles from our Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party’s HQ that is darn near in Wisconsin. That siting error explains much of the DFL’s difficulty winning elections outside of the Minneapolis/St.Paul metro area and the traditional DFL stronghold of northeastern Minnesota. The political geography of Minnesota is typical midwestern, with a core in the old cities of the metro that votes overwhelmingly DFL if you can get them out to vote, the shrinking historic progressive labor vote in Duluth and the old Iron Range, swing districts in the inner ring suburbs and larger outstate college towns and rural areas, and a near hopelessly republican homeland in the outer suburbs and exurbs. To win the legislature DFLers have to grow the DFL party and vote beyond the urban core in rural Minnesota… The party leadership targeted too few legislative races in 2014 and lost the house majority.

We were told this election would be different, and one of the DFL’s first staff hires for this cycle was a rural organizer. For our part we rural DFLers used the off year to recruit and train candidates and build party infrastructure like never before. And with no statewide races on the 2016 ballot and Minnesota a routine win for democratic presidential candidates, this looked like the year the DFL party would focus much of it’s substantial resources in rural Minnesota.

Then 2nd congressional district republican congressman Kline decided not to run again and put that swing district in play, and a couple republican state legislators from said district were busted for double parking whilst romantically engaged. All that electoral opportunity barely a long doorknock away from DFL HQ was too tempting to resist, and looks like we’ve kinda been forgotten (again) out here.

So by now the local campaign offices should be rented and staffed, but the nearest campaign office is in Willmar, 90 miles away. We’ve got winnable R+2 and R+3 house districts with ineffective republican incumbents here, but the DFL has given us no facility or staff to take advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity of having Trump at the top of the republican slate. No help from Hillary either, the promised “over the limit” funds from her big donors arrived at least electronically at the state DFL, but were sent back to the Hillary campaign next day. But we’re used to having our southwest Minnesota swing districts ignored by the state party and the DNC, which explains why we had such trouble recruiting candidates… While the republican incumbents have thousands in their campaign treasuries, most of our candidates jumped in late with little or no campaign funds.

So as the campaign season drags on in rural Minnesota, it’s obvious that the state DFL party leadership is again targeting just enough seats to barely win the state house back. That means they’ve blown this chance to elect a democratic super majority that can pass bonding bills to rebuild our infrastructure, and in 2018 and 2020 they’ll lose that thin majority and the republicans will get to gerrymander the state again. So we drone through the parades knowing the state DFL is MIA again, and despite the Trump turnout reduction effect we’ll probably lose again… Starting to wonder why I bother.

How’s your rural campaigns going?

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