October, 2018

Berlin and Lincoln -- I've been in both cities in the past sixty days, concerned and saddened by electoral developments.

German elections in Bavaria and Hesse have signaled understandable displeasure with the national ruling coalition of CDU/CSU/SPD. The coalition's days are numbered. The SPD especially took a heavy hit, mostly undeserved in my opinion. The SPD was forced into the coalition when the FDP refused to help form a government after the 2017 elections. Someone had to act responsibly, and SPD leaders did. They have paid a heavy price for trying to do the right thing.

A glimmer of good news shone through after the Bavarian election when voters rejected the divisive politics of CSU leader Horst Seehofer. The CSU lost badly and more of its defectors moved to the Greens than to the even more divisive AfD. But in Hesse, two weeks later, it was the CSU's sister party, the CDU, that lost voters with largely the same pattern of defection. So much for taking solace in Seehofer's bad showing, unfortunately.

It is not in America's interest to see instability in German governments, especially the growing tilt toward the extreme politics of the AfD. Does anyone remember why we fought WWII? It was against fascism in all its ugly and murderous varieties. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis does, but he may soon be out because he is a voice of reason and stability in an administration that craves disruption at any cost, even at the risk of confusing our friends with our enemies, and even losing sight of who we are and what we stand for.

Which leads to thoughts of upcoming elections in Nebraska, where voters seem pleased with the Trump Administration's foreign policy, even as farm income is being hurt badly by Trump's backfiring tariffs. Nebraska has just approved a new self-deprecating tourist slogan ("Honestly, it's not for everyone") and now is about to vote for self-destructive government policies at probably every level. Even high property taxes, especially in the agriculture sector, will not be enough to make Nebraskans think twice about whom they put and keep in office. My alternative slogans: "Nebraska: Formerly Known as The Good Life" or "Nebraska: Great Downhill Voting."

The most interesting race in Nebraska might be the one for state auditor, where the incumbent Charlie Jansen is the heavy favorite despite his practice of spending his working hours at a local tavern, drinking with others also on the taxpayer's payroll. Thanks to the Omaha World Herald for letting voters know. And thanks to the Lincoln Journal Star, especially reporter JoAnne Young, for her revelations about the dismal state of affairs in the governor's code departments. Not that voters seem to care.

A difference between current German and Nebraskan voting is that Germans seem more inclined to throw out the party that governs badly. Or perhaps Nebraskans are simply okay with what they vote for, expecting little. A possible, all-too-true headline and slogan on the day after elections: "Nebraska: Resigned to Its Fate as a One-Party State."

Democrats Haven't Learned

October, 2018

Washington -- Three weeks out from the mid-term elections, it looks increasingly certain that Democrats are going to fall short. Short of performing as they should, at least. Whether that means not taking the Senate, or even the House, is not clear but there will not be the kind of decisive Democratic victory that should be in the offing given the chaos, ineptitude, and scandals of the other party.

The reason for this is a failure of Democrats to compete for votes where elections are increasingly decided: rural America. That should have been the lesson of 2016 for Democrats, but the party has been slow to learn. Once again, Democrats are not showing up and not aggressively pursuing voters in rural areas with policies and passions to prove their bona fides with this critical population.

What is lacking in the 2018 Democratic election strategy is an understanding that Democrats do not need to win the rural counties and precincts outright, only to be competitive so that an overwhelming rural vote for Republicans does not cancel out Democratic strengths elsewhere.

Who are these voters who should be targeted? Rural voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016. Getting them back should be the highest priority.

Have Democrats even noticed, let alone pounced on the fact that the President and Congressional Republicans have already set the table for Democrats to eat the Republicans' lunch in the heartland? Consider:

• Falling commodity prices caused by the Trump tariffs
• Rejection of farm groups' pleas for "trade not aid"
• Hostility toward soil conservation programs, even attempting to kill the nation's largest conservation program (CSP) for working farms
* Slashing of USDA programs important to rural America, including a USDA reorganization to weaken agriculture's voice in Washington
• Holding the entire 2018 Farm Bill hostage to cynical politics over SNAP work requirements, which already exist

Simultaneously, remarkable work by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and her Democratic committee members and staff, have produced an unexpectedly good, bipartisan Farm Bill widely praised throughout rural America, which is getting desperate for passage of a bill before current programs expire and throw rural economies into turmoil. Consider the bill's

• Assistance for local and regional healthy food markets, creating jobs
• A focus on nutrition to combat the epidemics of obesity and diabetes
• Farm income safety-net reforms to help young farmers
• Expansion of topsoil conservation programs
* Broadband access for the heartland
• Bipartisan support, including that of Republican chairman Senator Pat Roberts
• Senate passage, 86-11

In short, through the work of Senator Stabenow and her Agriculture Committee colleagues, Democrats have set an inviting table for themselves to compete throughout rural America.

But you'd never know any of this by looking at the Democratic National Committee's web page on rural America, which makes it seem as if the last interest Democrats had in the heartland was creation of the Rural Electrification Administration back in the 1930s. One looks in vain among thin gruel platitudes for even a single mention of the 2018 Farm Bill and its urgency.

New election analyses by pundits likewise show that Democrats have a curious, wrongheaded strategy. Democrats are trying in vain to win congressional districts that are at best a long shot, on issues that ignore the tables set before them, while neglecting the rural vote within districts that are competitive. While it is good to compete everywhere, it must be on issues voters care about most.

There is a lesson to be learned from just a few weeks ago: the special election loss of Democrat Danny O'Connor in Ohio's 12th district. All O'Connor needed to win were a few more votes in his rural precincts, which he could have gathered with a little more presence and more passion about rural issues. Had he simply hammered on the Conservation Stewardship Program – farmers really care about topsoil – or on nutrition or regional markets, he would have won. He still can win in November, but he needs to show he cares about what concerns his rural voters.

Huge numbers of heartland voters are disgusted with the president but want to be able to vote for something positive, not just against the negatives. They need a reason to vote Democratic. So far, the Democratic Party is slow to offer it, and looks headed toward another election of underperformance, all for lack of presence and passion about the concerns of rural America.