A Progressive Democrat Campaigning In The Rural South, Part II


Yesterday, we began our journey through the rural South, dissecting and repudiating a piece written by the New York Times‘ National Political Correspondent Jonathan Martin. Today, the conclusion…

Progressive approaches to drug addiction and drug crimes are proven to work versus the conservative idea of mass incarceration for drug crime. It was clear to us that if people do not accept progressive policies (and if Democratic candidates choose to not campaign on them), alienating a specific community will be the least of anyone’s concerns.

In fact, I go one step further and say what is more damning to these communities is influential newspapers  like the New York Times continuously putting out pieces that paint bold, progressive policies as dangerous or unrealistic. I would love for them to sit in a rural Mississippi county filled with a significant majority of people that are working and retirement age who are on some form of government-backed insurance and tell them that Medicare For All is a big, bad socialist idea.

No one in that room is going to scream away socialism (in fact, they may just be open to more leftist policies). Universal Basic Income? Yes, please! For them, it would be a godsend since most of these places have no direct industry to rely on for jobs. Sure there are places an hour away, but you usually have three other rural counties all using this one industry as its primary source of economic opportunity and many families in rural communities only have one vehicle. We don’t have subway systems that can get these folks to work.

In the Times piece, Steve Schale, described as a Florida-base Democratic strategist, is quoted as saying “There’s a baseline percentage of the white vote you have to get to win and you can’t get to it just through young and progressive excitement.” There is some truth to his statement, but there is also a grim reality that is he unintentionally revealing. He could possibly be correct by saying that young and progressive excitement cannot get enough white vote (in the South) to win. As it turns out, we did not win our campaign, but more on that in a moment. What is he unintentionally revealing is that it’s a Democratic strategy to knowingly campaign against the best interests of a constituency to appeal to ideals of one specific base, or in other words, white supremacy reigns in popular campaign strategies over true left principles?

That brings me back to our loss. In a post-election evaluation, we realized many people had still not heard of our campaign before Election Day, and they would have voted for us had they known before casting their vote. That could be on us, it is our responsibility to get our message out; however, we were out-spent by our incumbent opponent by 5 to 1. The national Democratic Party has alienated and abandoned the liberal south for years. We are poorly financed, under-resourced, and our national party along with national committees seem uninterested in helping. I do not know much about Steve Schale as a Democratic strategist, but, if any liberal strategist in the South is not making the argument that the DNC make a significant reinvestment in the South, their other opinions are moot.

Image by Ali Zifan/CC BY-SA 4.0

The efforts made by our campaign and the Congressional and Senatorial campaigns in Mississippi were made predominantly on our small budgets from our individual donors and grassroots organizing. Without compromising our message and remarkably without the national support we were still able to make gains despite losing on election day. We received 200% more of the vote than the Democratic nominee received in the previous midterm and in many of our precincts we met or exceeded the ballots received for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

We did that by not compromising our progressive platform but packing it up in a motor home and literally taking it to all of the rural communities in South Mississippi. We did not alienate anyone with our message, and we actually attracted crossover voters. The problem across the South is we are divided by our own party at large, and that should be the story coming from anyone who is here right now attempting to address campaigns in the South.

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