New Democracy hosted a gathering of Midwest Democrats Oct. 13 in Des Moines to take up the challenge of Winning Back the Heartland. This public forum featured former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas City Mayor Sly James, U.S. Congressman and 2020 presidential candidate John Delaney, former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell, former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, Iowa State Senators Jeff Danielson and Matt McCoy, former Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, along with many other leading elected officials from around the region.
The discussion focused on how new ideas and a “big tent” approach can help Democrats win back traditional Democratic strongholds that have increasingly voted Republican over the last decade and proved to be the pivotal political battleground in 2016. Specifically, we explored an economic agenda to create new middle class jobs and encourage businesses to grow and prosper in the Heartland. There was also a focus on examining the growing alarm in rural America over the Trump administration’s protectionist policies, which threaten to close foreign markets to U.S. agricultural exporters and cost good paying jobs in communities that can least afford to lose them. We also explored ways to bridge cultural divides with working class, rural, and small town voters. And we talked about how to expand political and financial support for the kind of pragmatic Democratic candidates, who can expand the party’s appeal among moderate and independent voters.
Here are some highlights:
The November 2016 elections not only blew a hole through the Democratic Party’s rust belt firewall, the results exposed a decisive shift in Midwest states. Results in conservative Texas were closer than the republican wins in Iowa, Missouri, even Kansas.
Former Kansas Governor Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, and former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander join Iowa Press to discuss how Democrats can regroup and patch together that Midwest coalition once again.
“We’re not talking enough about workforce development. We’re not talking about the majority of kids who don’t go to college,” pollster John Anzalone told an audience of Democrats on Friday in Des Moines.
He added, “You know, I never hear anything about free college in focus groups.”
When heartland voters express concerns about the economic impact of immigration, for example, Democrats “treat them like idiots,” [John] Anzalone said. Democrats need to stop driving cultural wedges and instead refocus on an optimistic economic agenda that all voters can embrace.
The Des Moines Register: Tom Vilsack, Democratic leaders plead for the party to reconnect with rural voters
Democrats must win back the trust of rural America if they want to win elections in Iowa and nationwide, party leaders and operatives said Friday at a forum aimed at pushing the party in a ‘radically pragmatic’ direction for 2018 and beyond.
That means, first and foremost, campaigning outside of reliably liberal city areas and acknowledging the cultural and economic concerns of the voters living in those rural parts of the country.
“We need to be in those small towns, creating those conversations in the coffee shop, pushing back on those folks who are anti-government,” former Iowa Gov. and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “We can’t just organize in Ward 1 in Des Moines, we have to go to Ward 1 in Mount Pleasant.”
The seminar was sponsored by a think tank called New Democracy, founded by Will Marshall, who was a co-founder of the centrist “Third Way” Democratic Leadership Council that launched Bill Clinton. But this effort is not so much a group for centrists, though there were some in attendance. Instead, it’s dedicated to the idea that the one-size-fits-all imposition of coastal values onto the Democratic Party has doomed it to a minority status that was only masked by Obama’s success.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James gave one of the best received talks here. “As a people,’’ he told the crowd, “we’re stuck in this endless ideological argument and don’t seem to be willing admit” that neither side is going to be won over by the other. Instead of staying locked in that trap, he said, we need to elect leaders with common sense and put people ahead of party, period.
“There are a lot of really big ideas and changes, and there need to be more,” said Will Marshall, who runs the new centrist Democratic group New Democracy. “We’re not at the end of this quest. We’re embarking on it.”
Marshall’s group on Friday will host a conference of center-left Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, where many longtime party leaders and strategists will discuss winning races in red-state territory.
With attendees such as former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, it’s the type of event where leaders can begin laying out a vision for the party different than the one espoused by liberal activists.
Centrist Democrats generally differ rhetorically from their liberal counterparts in their focus on economic opportunity instead of economic inequality, on working with business instead of expanding government programs. But the rhetoric, party strategists say, has to be buffeted by serious, attractive proposals that can win converts and drive conversations.
“You can’t cede territory,” said Sebelius, who won four statewide races in Kansas before joining President Obama’s cabinet in 2009. “You can’t just say: ‘Well, I’ll only campaign in the seven urban counties where 70 percent of the vote comes from,’ so you start there,” Sebelius says. “…People want to know you’re more like them than different from them.”
Maryland Congressman John Delaney has already announced he intends to run for president in 2020. He argued rather than present “a thousand” issues to voters, the party should focus a simple message about “jobs, pay and the dignity of work.”
“Sixty percent of kids in this country live in a county where there’s no demonstrated upward economic mobility,” Delaney said. “That means the American Dream’s really not alive in those places. They care about that stuff and that’s what our message should be focused on.”
The Kansas City Star: ‘Frankly, it’s bull—-’: Kathleen Sebelius is fighting mad about Obamacare attacks
On Thursday, the president did announce two ACA-killing moves: The government will stop paying health insurance companies to keep costs down for low-income Americans. As a result, insurance premiums will go up even more and even faster, and more insurance companies will leave the government exchanges created under Obamacare.
The changes won’t be immediate, but under this plan, those companies will once again be able to sell junk insurance, too, as they did before the law passed. And of course coverage that doesn’t offer much is cheaper.
Sebelius said Republicans like Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, should fight this: “She needs to insist that her president follow the law and say there are people in Iowa who are going to be screwed by this.”
She also had some thoughts for and about the elected officials in her home state of Kansas. They frustrate her by going on about how much they care about health care in rural areas, “yet they won’t do anything to change the rates” that Medicaid pays.
Lee Enterprises Des Moines Bureau: Democrats agree: They ignored, talked down to rural voters, and lost them
“We have to make our argument with courage, and we have to make it everywhere,” said Jason Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016.
“(The 2016 election) brought home a reality that we were dimly aware of, but were not focused on,” said Will Marshall, who formed New Democracy. “We have to expand the party and we have to expand in all directions, reaching beyond our core partisans and engaging voters who are not now Democrats or are not now voting for us.”
Marshall added, “We have to go everywhere and build real, winning coalitions and majorities again.”