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Thursday, October 23, 2003


The Red States

posted by Amanda at Thursday, October 23, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
There's been a lot of talk since Election 2000 about how the Democrats are strong in the Blue States (the Northeast and Mid Atlantic, the Pacific Northwest, and the Upper Midwest) while the Republicans are strong in the Red States (everything in between). A conventional wisdom has developed over the past three years -- led by the seminal work by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, The Emerging Democratic Majority that the Democrats don't have much of a chance of winning Red States and Republicans have less and less of a chance of winning Blue States. In light of the recent California debacle, who knows if this CW holds. But it probably does, to some extent. As Judis and Teixeira point out, over the past few years, Democratic voters have been concentrating in Blue States and Republican voters have been concentrating in Red States, solidifying those states as surer wins for the respective parties. And with the Red States losing population as Blue States gain population, so goes the EDM theory, Democrats have a stronger base from which to prevail as a party, especially on the national level.

So should the Democrats give up on reaching voters in the Red States? Howard Dean has been very clear he intends to compete in every state, Blue or Red, urban or rural. In some ways, he's an ideal candidate to pursue such a hybrid strategy. He was born and raised in the Big Apple but has lived his entire professional life -- by choice -- in a rural, small-town state with a vibrant agricultural sector. Dealing frankly with agriculture and hunting and rural issues of all kinds is central to any politician's longevity in Vermont. Dean has a unique ability to appeal and speak to urban and rural voters. In addition, his position on gun control, many speculate, will help him in rural states, especially those (like West Virginia) that went narrowly for Bush in 2000.

Some of the other Democratic contenders aren't as well positioned as Dean in rural states, according to John Nichols, who argues in the most recent issue of The Nation that many of the Red States are winnable. But the Democrats must develop a strong rural strategy STAT.

Less than a quarter of America's population now lives beyond this country's cities and suburbs. But even as their percentage of the national population dwindles, rural states still elect two US senators each, and more than fifty US House members represent predominantly rural districts. The electoral votes of even the least populous state can decide close national elections. In 2000, for instance, Al Gore fell just three electoral votes short of winning the presidency. That means that the electoral votes of a single rural stateā€¦could have rendered Florida's disputed electoral votes inconsequential.

Polls show that rural Americans are even more concerned than urban voters about access to healthcare, education and the jobs that have gone missing since George W. Bush became President. But rural voters also bring unique demands to the table--for constraints on agribusiness conglomerates, new approaches to trade policy and a renewed federal commitment to rural development. The ability of Democratic candidates to answer those demands with significantly more populist responses than did their predecessors in 2000 and 2002 will determine whether the party has a chance in 2004.

While some political consultants assume that Dean won't do well in Red States because he's pro-choice and supports gay rights and has been tagged by the media as a liberal, Nichols quotes a Missouri farmer and activist who disputes this assumption:

"You can be ardently pro-choice and support gay rights and still win rural areas if you have an economic message. I don't think too many people in rural Missouri sit up nights worrying about gay rights. But they do sit up nights worrying about how they are going to keep the farm or how they are going to get health benefits after the meatpacking plant shuts down."

And two other rural activists quoted by Nichols -- Neil Ritchie, head of The League of Rural Voters, and Don Morrison, director of the North Dakota Progressive Coalition -- confirm that Dean has made significant inroads in many rural states with his creative rural strategy and up front rhetoric that's grounded in his experience as a Governor from a rural state:

Ritchie thinks some Democratic candidates are starting to get it. While Joe Lieberman still echoes discredited talk about trade as a cure-all, Kucinich and Dick Gephardt recognize that rural voters see through the claims of free traders. Edwards stumbled on the livestock-monopoly issue, but Kucinich, Gephardt and Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, champion anti-monopoly measures. And while Dean is often portrayed as the darling of the East and West Coasts, his "Farmers and Ranchers for Dean" campaign has made progress in states like Iowa and North Dakota. "Dean's from a rural state and he's gotten through to a lot of people by talking substance on our issues," says North Dakotan Morrison. "Substance is the key. Rural voters don't want sympathy, they want something real from Democrats."

Yet another example of the Dean campaign effectively challenging the conventional wisdom.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.