Democrats have longed for a way to recapture rural voters. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post looks at how U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is winning over some of the state’s swing voters and setting an example for fellow party members.
“One of the most progressive members in the Senate has figured out how to turn her narrowly divided state into a place where, with the right message, Democrats can notch a big win,” Rubin writes, relaying an anecdote shared by Baldwin: “At a roundtable at a dairy farm, she met with a crowd that doesn’t frequently vote for Democrats. One voter needled her a bit. In response, she said ‘Is that your truck out there? Well, I have one just like it.’ Touting her support for rural development and infrastructure, she said, ‘Potholes aren’t red or blue.’ Asked after the event if he would vote Republican, the voter said no. ‘Did you listen to her? She’s working on my issues.’”
That is the point: Baldwin goes where too few Democrats go, engages with persuadable voters, and her responses are relatable. “On a given issue, she shows an issue can ‘break through.’ And for her, those issues mean keeping the interests of the dairy industry and, more generally, rural America front and center,” Rubin writes. “She pointed out that there are about 170,000 lead water lines in Wisconsin. To eliminate ‘that grave danger for children whose brains are developing’ would cost a rural community tens of millions of dollars, sending utility prices skyrocketing. Instead, the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help fund those repairs — and bring broadband to rural areas and repair roads and bridges.”
On social issues, which have turned many Democrats into Republicans, “Baldwin is unapologetic,” Rubin reports. Baldwin cited Wisconsin’s recent state Supreme Court race, an example of how “freedom of choice is an issue that unites people across party lines,” Rubin writes. “On guns, she pointed out that in a very gerrymandered state, you ‘see a difference between the state legislature and the average voter.’ Republicans are trying to make gun access even easier. ‘I don’t think the Wisconsin public or even gun-owning public is in line with that,’ she said.”
Baldwin’s approach combines standing firm on issues but always listening to, and sometimes educating, Wisconsin voters. One example: court decisions on redistricting should influence voters’ choices in “selecting presidents and senators,” Rubin writes. “Her success is proof of some basic political nostrums. If you work incredibly hard, pay close attention to your state, and solve people’s daily problems, partisan labels mean less. ... Moreover, framing social issues as matters of ‘rights and freedoms’ allows her to reach voters who don’t normally consider themselves to be ‘progressive.’ ... Baldwin’s reelection prospects will be greatly affected by the presidential race. However, don’t be surprised if she runs far ahead of the top of the ticket. She’s done it before, and knows precisely how to extend her winning streak.”