Conservative Democrats Making Pitch to Win Back Rural Voters

(Bloomberg) -- A group of conservative House Democrats is making an appeal to the rural voters who’ve mostly abandoned the party at a time when they say Donald Trump’s agenda on issues such as tariffs, health care and the rural economy has created an opening.

The 18-member Blue Dog Coalition, which has been working to prevent a leftward shift in the Democrats’ House delegation, released Thursday what it calls a plan to address those issues, along with infrastructure and veterans affairs, in rural areas.

"If we’re going to send a message to our constituents that we care, we have to send it in a way that’s representative of what we need to be, and why we need to do it and have a plan for their future," said Representative Tom O’Halleran, a first-term Arizona Democrat and the chairman of the coalition’s rural task force.

The plan envisions "a commonsense, bipartisan approach to revitalizing rural America," which calls for Congress to pass a new farm bill, stabilize health-care markets and oppose an escalation of trade tensions, a reference to the president’s trade conflicts with China.

"Obviously the tariffs haven’t helped the farmers, we have to work together to find fairness for America’s trade agreements," O’Halleran said.

Potential Agenda

Presented as a possible agenda regardless of whether Democrats win a House majority in the November elections, the five-part plan also gives Democratic candidates running in rural Republican strongholds the outline of a campaign platform.

“For too long, Washington has taken a one-size-fits-all approach to economic policy,” Representative Jim Costa of California, Blue Dog co-chairman and a member of the Agriculture Committee, said in a statement. “What works for big cities doesn’t always work for rural areas.”

While Democrats dominate urban areas, Republicans’ hold on rural America has continued to grow.

An NPR analysis of presidential election exit polls found that rural areas went for Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton by 28 percentage points in 2016. President Barack Obama lost the rural vote by eight points in 2008 and 20 points in 2012. A May 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that Republicans have a 16-point advantage in rural America while Democrats have a 31-point advantage in urban centers.

Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-held seats to win back control of the House in the Nov. 6 elections.

Blue Dogs say they expect their membership numbers to grow with the election of centrist Democratic candidates from swing districts. They want to moderate the influence of the party’s more progressive wing if Democrats regain control. The coalition has endorsed 20 candidates running in seats rated from likely Democratic to solid Republican by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The other priorities outlined in their plan include lowering prescription drug prices, passing an infrastructure bill, expanding access to broadband Internet service and improving health-care access for veterans in rural areas. They don’t provide details of such proposals or how they would be paid for.

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