A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

10 February 2017

Have national Democrats already written off
Montana’s special congressional election?

Probably, according to a story, Should House Democrats write off rural congressional districts?, published in yesterday’s Washington Post. Montana may be too rural, too white, and have too few college graduates for a Democrat to win a seat in the U.S. House.

New York Democrat Rep. Sean Maloney, a data driven attorney who represents the Hudson Valley, has been reviewing the 2016 elections.

Some findings are surprising. “Did the unemployment rate matter or not?” he said. “Turns out it doesn’t matter much at all.”

Maloney also wants to abandon the longtime party metric used by operatives known as the Democratic Performance Index, a complicated formula based on presidential and congressional candidate performance in specific House districts. Instead, he said, the three biggest predictors of the partisan bent of a House district are the percentage of it that is rural, how much of its population has received college degrees and how diverse it is.

In 2016, Trump won white working class (less than a college degree, working for wages or as independent tradesmen) men and women by huge margins. There are identity caucuses in the Democratic Party that are deeply opposed to welcoming white working class voters, whom they consider deplorable racists and homophobes, into the party.

The question neither Maloney nor Luján [head of the Democratic Congressiona Campaign Committee] will answer is whether they should recruit moderate to conservative candidates in rural districts or just abandon them altogether.

A beta test for 2018 will come in two special elections this spring to replace House members getting elevated to Trump’s Cabinet. Democrats regularly win governors and Senate races in Montana, where Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is set to become interior secretary, but it’s unclear whether the DCCC will invest in that mostly rural at-large district.

Instead, Maloney said, “Watch the special election for Tom Price’s seat in suburban Atlanta.”

Rep. Price (R-Ga.), who is expected to win confirmation as Trump’s health secretary, has never faced a difficult race in 12 years in Congress, but his district snapped from favoring Republican Mitt Romney by 14 percentage points over Obama in 2012 to a narrow win for Trump of just two percentage points.

Georgia voted for Trump. Nevertheless, together with Texas and Arizona, it was one of three red states where Hillary Clinton’s campaign poured money down a rat hole instead of spending it in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the states that cost her the election. Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, are states that civil rights attorney Steve Phillips, author of Brown is the New White, identified, in a speech to the City Club of Cleveland, as states where demographic changes would produce Democratic majorities.

Montana will be a heavy lift. National Democrats have written off our House seat ever since Nancy Keenan lost to Denny Rehberg in 2000. But that’s no reason for abandoning Montana in a special election. There should be plenty of money available if the national party decides it’s in keeping with the party’s current priorities and principles to bother with a House seat in a white rural state where not that many have college degrees, and where those that have degrees are clustered in towns instead of on the farms and ranches.

Democrats cannot afford to write off rural America if they want to reclaim the White House, Congress, and state legislatures and governorships. But if the fools who nominated Hillary Clinton stay in charge of the party, rural American will be written off and a permanent Republican majority will emerge.