HOT TAKE ALERT: RURAL DEMOCRATS ARE DOING IT WRONG
I do a lot of thinking and writing about the challenges of rural Democrats and rural Democratic Parties. When I say "rural" I mean a county that has fewer than 500 people per square mile and is dominated by Republicans by 65% of the vote or more in a general election. How do you elect a Democratic candidate with those sorts of numbers? The obvious answer is you don't.
So what does a local Democratic organization in such a place do? It has to change from electing candidates mode to rebuilding mode. When a local party no longer has competitive candidates on a consistent basis, it is time to forget about the general election and focus only on rebuilding the party. How do we do that?
I argue what these rural Democratic groups should do is focus solely on growing the number of voters in the local Democratic Primary. That should be the only goal, and the way we measure success. Forget about the general election, forget about general mass voter registration and forget about state wide campaigns or turning out the vote for state wide candidates in the general. It is time to worry about ourselves and what is best for the local organization.
The reality is that until TDP can get within 2-3% points of a majority vote in an election, the rural vote cannot help a statewide candidate much. We are still a long way from making it that close. The reality in most of these counties is that anyone willing to run as a Democrat must accept that they will probably not win. They may not even get close. They must have a secondary goal for running other than getting elected, such as helping grown the local party and increase turnout in the primary.
There is a dearth of people willing to run as Democrats in rural counties. I argue that is not because of ideology. It is because no one is voting in the Democratic primary. Politics is a numbers game. The way to get people to run as a Democrat is to get more people voting in the Democratic primary. More people voting in the Democratic primary means more people voting Democrat in the general election, and more people voting for a Democrat in the general election means, more people willing to run as a Democrat. Local candidates willing to run as Democrats, or a hotly contested state wide race are a big help in growing your primary vote, but they are not a requirement. The most important factor is making it personal.
I am not talking about trying to convince Republicans, even moderate ones, to vote Democratic. That is not a good use of time or resources. I am talking about getting people we know are Democrats, or sympathetic to Democrats, voting in the primary. We start by not worrying about those who do not vote in our primary, and put almost all our focus on those that do. Local Democrats need to be finding ways to reach these people, to connect with them year round, build relationships and keep them as voters. Once we do that well, then we can work on the occasional Democratic voter and the independents. As we grow the number of people willing to vote in the primary we are growing our party. People tend to identify the party officers, activists and volunteers as the party. They are not. The party is all of the people who vote in the primary. They are the Democratic Party.
Success is measured by growth over several election cycles. If you have more voters in your Democratic Primary in 2024 than you did in 2022 or 2020, you have won. Forget the general election and the state wide candidates for now. In time, they will all take care of themselves.
Jon Mark Hogg is a San Angelo lawyer and Founder of The 134 PAC. The opinions expressed in this post are those of Jon Mark and do not reflect the opinions or position of The 134 PAC, its members or volunteers.