Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Bubba's Troubadours

The Moose urges the donkey to go country.

If Democrats are to become a majority party again, they cannot discount the south or rural parts of America. The most significant shifts in congressional seats since 1994 has been in rural areas. And clearly, it is cultural issues that have precipitated the erosion of Democratic support.

Democrats at the state level have had some success in states with large rural populations such as Montana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Tennessee. Of course, Mark Warner was scored a notable victory by directly appealing to that constituency. The new Weekly Standard has an entertaining profile of Warner's two political consultants who were the architects of this Bubba strategy, Dave "Mudcat" Saunders and Steve Jarding .

The Moose was struck by this passage,

"Jarding met Mudcat, launched their rural offensive, and the rest is election history. While Jarding is more of a traditional Democrat than Mudcat, he's just as peevish when it comes to recent Democratic behavior toward rural and southern voters: "If you say to them, 'You're voting against your own economic interest,' is that true? Damn right, it's true. But it sounds belittling. It sounds like you're saying, 'You're an idiot.' No, Democrats, you're the idiots. They're voting on their values. They're voting on something out there, because the other side gave them something to vote on. You've given them nothing, and while you're doing that, suicide rates are up. Unemployment rates are up. Wages are down--it's a terrible mess in rural America. And you've got the economic issues where you can go get 'em, but you've got to get through the culture and through to their values. Don't act like they don't exist. Democrats miss that point, and if they get that point, they're going to win a helluva lot of races."

When I ask Jarding why Democrats should necessarily concentrate on a demographic that's been hostile to them, since there's only a finite pie and limited resources, he grows increasingly animated: "I'd say let Republicans make that argument. Go to rural America and say, 'You're a finite pie, so screw you! All 21 percent of the country of you, all 60 million of you. You're a finite pie!" Jarding, who nearly entered the priesthood before casting his lot in politics, says, "It's a moral argument. How morally right is it for our Democratic nominee for president to tell 60 million people, 'You don't matter to me'?"

Jarding says it's high time Democrats stopped worrying about appeasing the base, which isn't big enough to win national elections, and started making inroads into the approximately 35 percent of the country--the South--that they're ceding, by breaking it down into component pools."

Democrats cannot win at the Presidential level by spotting the Republicans around two hundred electoral votes from the start. National Democrats cannot merely dismiss the cultural concerns of these voters or think that a simple photo op with a rifle before an election will attract them. And the DNC must find ways to give high profile roles for successful Democrats from those parts of the country.

A deeper problem lies in the brand reputation of the national Democratic party in the south and in rural areas. National spokesman of the party must give thought how their words will be interpreted in rural Arkansas as well as the Upper West Side. Sometimes that means actually thinking before speaking.

Think about such unheralded national Democratic heroes as Congressman Chet Edwards who represents W.'s Crawford Ranch and the Moose's old stomping grounds in Waco. Edwards is a braveheart who has held off both the religious right and DeLay's redistricting schemes.

Does the national brand of the Democrat help or hurt Edwards who resides in the buckle of the Bible Belt? Do the national spokesmen of the party give Congressman Edwards a lift or do they make his job much more difficult?

Ultimately, a Democratic Presidential candidate either needs to be from that part of the country or at least understand southern and rural sensibilities. No one expects that Democrats will win any where near a majority of this region's voters. But, we cannot cede this part of the country and give the Republicans the luxury of intruding into Democratic turf. Republicans are now making Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota competitive. Can Democrats make the GOP fight for Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia and North Carolina?

And always keep old Chet Edwards in your thoughts.
-- Posted at 8:25 AM | Link to this post | Email this post