Monday, November 8, 2010

Georgia Democrats need a "Rural Strategy" aimed at the "Sticks", the "Boonies" to ensure its Survival in 2012

The State of Georgia is largely a rural state (75-80%) with a huge metropolitan area of Atlanta & a few pockets of democratic strength.

Rural Georgia's priorities have been overlooked in Atlanta. In the state legislature and governor’s mansion with significant rural components, the focus typically remains on urban, suburban and (now) ex-urban counties “where the votes are.”

Particularly in the post-Georgia nomination period, the political attention typically moves away from the concerns of rural caucus-goers to focus on the concerns of suburban primary voters.

There are elements in place that suggest more opportunity than in recent years to change the debate on rural issues and refocus the state on the rural agenda. But I highly doubt that Nathan Deal & his cohorts will have rural Georgia high on top of their list.

Many Democratic pundits seem inclined to write-off the rural Portions of the state to eternal Republican control. This is a serious misreading of the current political situation and likely future trends in the South. The inspired 159 County Strategy, which never really came to fruition is a much better approach. It will take more time and resources to show impressive results. It should be given more time and a much higher political priority.

But will the 159 County Strategy work? There are some counties that are so republican, that it will have to take hell freezing over for a democrat to win in that area.

So something like a 140 County Strategy maybe a better option.

In many Georgia rural counties, the Democratic Party lacks the infrastructure needed to win campaigns. Strong Democratic area around the state should partner with a struggling southern rural county Democratic Party to help them raise money, develop public relations operations, candidate recruitment programs and GOTV machinery. Small contribution of resources in those areas should show dramatic results in future elections.

Democrats need to help local Democratic Parties take on Republican incumbents like State Senator Ross Tollson of Perry, State Rep. Penny Houston of Nashville and Buddy Harden of Cordele. A Democratic political message that highlights economic bread and butter issues in a populist form can help Democrats win in Georgia. Democrats need to aggressively publicize Republican hypocrisy on moral issues. Democrats need to crusade against legal and illegal corruption in government. It is important for Democrats to respond to Republican lies on issues like guns, religious freedom and taxes. Georgia Democrats need to define themselves instead of letting Republicans define them.

Republican rural votes in the past have offset Democratic votes in urban areas. If Democrats want to win statewide elections they need to be competitive in rural areas.

Even though rural voters may still consider themselves as very conservative, this is an appropriate time for Georgia Democrats (despite what happened on Tuesday Night) to up the ante and attract more rural votes for the upcoming elections.

Believe it or not, I have always disagreed with those who propose that, for Democrats to win in Georgia, we must offer only conservative candidates. (Centrist candidates have won in this state & still can win here this state). I believe that Georgia's voters are ready, willing, and able to support candidates that will take a firm stand on traditional Democratic values and ideals.

There is nothing at all wrong with what we believe in, it is just that we’ve sat on our duffs and allowed the Republicans to frame us as something we are not. It is time for us to stand up and fight for what we believe in. The voters of Georgia will respect us only if we respect ourselves.

We need more state senators, more state house members, more county commissioners and more mayors. For example, here in Georgia, we cannot just focus on those areas where we have historically won, we need to expand our sphere of influence into typically Republican areas. Democratic donors and PAC's must resist the urge to focus all of their resources on the "sexiest" of the races in the State. Democrats must realize that the end goal of gaining a Democratic majority in the State House is our number one priority.

Introducing the "Rural Strategy"

In order to promote Democratic policies in our state legislatures we need to realize that even the rural seats have a vote in the legislature and each seat we win takes us one seat closer to a majority. In an effort to embrace full disclosure I may be biased as I am running in a predominately rural district but I truly believe Democratic donors and PAC's should consider embracing a new "rural strategy".

The theory behind the rural strategy is based in the idea that we have a limited amount of resources to put into winning seats around the state and need to maximize our yield in number of seats we can win. Which sounds simple enough but in practice we as Democrats have not been good at embracing this idea.

So you may ask "what does this basic idea about party politics have to do with a rural strategy?"Republicans have been particularly skilled at realizing the high yield that comes from throwing their money into rural house seats. (For example, they threw $80,000 behind Tony McBrayer in his run for HD 153 to beat back favorite John Tibbetts, a democrat). The Republicans have a majority in the Georgia House by heavily funding candidates in rural seats often saturating the small burghs of Central Georgia with scores of paid "volunteers." Though some may not agree with this tactic the fact is that it works.

Here is the reason this strategy is so effective, rural races are generally less expensive than those in more urban and suburban districts. These races are often cheaper for two important reasons:

First, broadcast advertising is much cheaper in rural districts. For instance local broadcasting on the local NBC affiliate during prime time in a rural district is 10-20% of the cost of advertising in a market like Augusta or Atlanta. Additionally, each ad purchased in a rural district is more likely to hit a prospective voter in that same district as opposed to a more urban district where you are forced to purchase ad time that will target viewers from multiple districts.

Second, rural races are often cheaper as the overall contribution level of the people in rural district's tends to be much lower. These two factors which lead to a lower overall cost of these rural races results in each extra dollar coming from outside the district having a much higher yield than one given to a contentious race in an urban or suburban area.

We have to be present with a compelling message in small towns and rural areas, "If we don't make the message, we can't complain when we're demonized, cartoonized as aliens."

We can’t win if we play on the home field they’ve rigged. It is folly to try, but we can’t seem to resist and they lead us by the nose. To reach Georgians, first we need to think about and be clear about the principles that are fundamental to us and to all Georgians. We need to get creative about how we express them in values-based language they “get”. And we need to be original about how we get our message out to them.

We can’t trot out some Democratic version of the 1994 Contract on America , been there, done that! We can’t get the attention of the media by press conferences or by reading speeches to an empty Senate chamber. This means giving up equivocation and taking some risk and giving up some ways of doing things that are familiar. And it means not trying to out-Republican the Republicans on Tax Cuts and on media control for example. We must not play on their home field, it will always give them the advantage!

So let’s turn to Deep strategy, those things that help level the playing field fairly & new approaches to how we take our message to the people -- this has two components:

Changing the way the system works to level the playing field

Using new and different ways to take our message to the people

Rural voters bristle at the fact that in urban America, their chosen pastimes are considered backward, the punch lines to redneck jokes. And so the concept of respect, in rural Georgia, has become a genuine political issue. African-American voters, long bound to the Democratic Party by issues like affirmative action and affordable housing, don't demand that a candidate embrace
hip-hop. But to rural voters, an appreciation for stock-car racing, hunting and bluegrass is a critical show of faith -- and it has to precede any serious discussion.

Back to the Rural Strategy:

First, they need to get an office in every county in the state. It can be as simple as a dedicated cell phone that a real person can answer or return calls from. Someone who can pass out signs and answer questions and give out information.

Second, start showing up everywhere , this goes for both the candidates and the state party. Don't just show up at the county fairs; show up at the town fairs as well. Get the sports schedules and attend every homecoming game in the district. Show up for football games at Georgia Southern, Albany State, etc and basketball games in Hazelhurst and softball tournaments in Ashburn. Read the weekly papers and follow the fall church events. Be at every Lord's Acre Sale and Harvest Moon Bazaar that takes place between now and Election Day 2012.

Concentrating on the metropolitan centers and ceding the rural areas to the Republican noise machine is not a winning strategy for Democrats, and it is frankly insulting to the people in those areas. No, the population isn't dense down here in the southern tier counties, but the people aren't either. Listen to their concerns and give them a fair hearing. In other words, give them a reason to come back to their natural home in the Democratic Party, and I have confidence that they will.

I think Democrats realize, now, that you can't win if you don't play, and Democrats too often don't even travel to rural counties. And since there weren't enough of the statewide candidates who didn't go out there, there was nobody to promote the Democratic "brand," and the election results showed it. The fact is that many rural counties have a strong Democratic tradition. They just need to be reminded what a good, strong Democrat looks like.

If you read this article from Rural Progressive Patrick Davis who writes for the Macon Examiner you'll geta better picture of the situation: Democrats must find a way to communicate message to voterss

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is certainly interesting-but I have to ask, how come it's always the perception that this is a GA problem?
Many states around the country have the very same challenges- rural vs urban vs ex-urban.

Look at NY-you think folks in upstate cities like Fairport don't feel like they don't get the attention NYC does? Or Washington State or PA.. we've got to look to some of these states to see what success they've had with bridging the gap.

MN for instance has a strong DEM party -lead for years by a gay man from a rural county.

GA needs to look to other models and stop beating ourselves up about this. We should be celebrating the diversity instead of using it to fragment our party.

This is a Rural Blog that provides views & insights from a Conservative Georgia Democrat

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