Historically, most Democratic candidates who succeeded in white working-class, small-town districts have followed this kind of approach and always tended to display two major characteristics:
First, they firmly asserted and embraced many key traditional values and cultural markers of the white working class even as they staked out relatively moderate or liberal stances on these subjects.
They would endorse common-sense gun regulations, for example, but also consider gun ownership legitimate and categorically support the rights of citizens to own guns. They would reject the notion that America should impose Christianity on all Americans, but they would assert equally firmly that Christian faith is a positive force in many Americans’ family life, including their own. They would support a variety of populist economic measures but at the same time endorse the virtues of small business and individual initiative that are a part of working-class culture.
Second, they frequently embodied white working-class values in their own personal life and history. Many attended church on Sunday; others had served honorably in the military or had a background in a working-class occupation or as the owner of a small business. Many went hunting on fall weekends, listened to country music in their car, and were able to talk with firsthand knowledge and personal experience about the day-to-day problems of the white working-class people in the neighborhoods and communities they represented. In their personal lives they refuted the accusation that they were educated elitists with no connection to or understanding of ordinary peoples’ lives.
Democrats running in red-leaning districts whether its in South Central Georgia or Northeast Georgia need to spend time in places where people disagree with you. Reach out. Show up and make your argument. People will appreciate it, even if they are not inclined to vote for you. Sometimes you may spend days among crowds where there are almost no Democratic voters in sight. Listen to them, work with them and try to persuade them.
But if a Democrat is on the progressive side or leans that way, one should combine a reassuring cultural style with a practical progressive message on issues that people care about.
It is critical to recognize that the approach many Democratic candidates are taking cuts across the conventional centrist-progressive divide that now so obsesses the media and dominates debate within the Democratic coalition. Some successful Democratic candidates will frame their policies in relatively moderate (though still clearly Democratic) terms, as Lucy McBath did in Georgia 6th Congressional District, while others will campaign on more robust progressive terms like Stacey Abrams did in her bid for Georgia governor. But the success of all the new Democratic candidates will ultimately depend on whether they can win recognition and acceptance as sincere and authentic representatives of their predominantly working-class districts, rather than on any differences in the exact details of their platforms and policies.
In Trump-friendly districts, the central challenge Democrats face is to penetrate the conservative ideological cocoon and convincingly demonstrate to voters that Democrats can once again be their most effective and genuine advocates and representatives.