Clinton officially claimed the Democratic party’s nomination Tuesday night during the roll call of state delegations. Ann Tornberg, a farmer from Beresford, S.D., who chairs the South Dakota Democratic Party, announced the state’s historic vote count - putting Clinton over the top at 2,395 votes.
Party leaders acknowledged earlier in the day at the Democratic National Convention’s Rural Council meeting that rural voters like Tornberg will be key to a Clinton victory in the general election.
“You are the most important people at this gathering this week,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D- N.D., told a crowd of about 60 people sitting in the Philadelphia Convention Center to listen to rural advocates. “Hillary Clinton cannot lose Rural America by 90 to 10 (percent) and become the next president of the U.S.”
Heitkamp was one of a number of speakers, including Montana Senator Jon Tester, former North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy, former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and others, who made the case over the two-hour session on Tuesday that Hillary Clinton was the best bet for Rural America. And they repeatedly made the case that Democrats need to do a better job getting that message out.
Heitkamp acknowledged that many of the traditionally “blue” sections of Rural America have turned “red” in recent years and she’s not exactly sure why.
“It’s hard work convincing people that the Democrat party is the party that represents rural America. And it’s hard for me to understand why it’s hard,” she added. “We can tell you right off the bat these are the things we’ve done,” including passing a farm bill, providing crucial rural services and health care. But she also noted that “some of the regulations sometimes go too far…”
In many ways, the session provided a perfect backdrop for Democrats to rethink some of their rural outreach. Consultant Doug Hattaway discussed a “narrative project” at the Democratic National Committee that’s designed to “change the way we are talking about being Democrats” by offering a toolkit “to help you talk to friends and coworkers.”
“We’re the party that works for everybody and makes the economy and government work for every American, not just the powerful and privileged special interests like Donald Trump,” he added, before handing out a brochure called, “What does it mean to be a Democrat?” While the blue brochure doesn’t include the world “rural,” it focuses on strengths from “honest, hard-working people from all walks of life.”
Hattaway said that the DNC surveyed over 3,000 voters, and nine out of ten said that was an important message that they wanted to hear. And they compared it against the GOP messages that were developed after Republicans lost their last presidential election. He said they tested the Democrat’s messages against the GOP messages and “beat them by 12 points.”
Trevor Dean, a volunteer leading the “Rural for Hillary” coalition, says that rural voters will be impressed the more they know about Clinton’s track record on rural issues as both a senator representing New York and a Secretary of State, focused on world hunger and food security.
Some of it will involve getting farmers to talk to farmers or rural mayors to talk to other mayors. “We want everyone in Rural America to understand that Secretary Clinton is looking out for them,” Dean said.
After the Rural Council meeting, Dean met with agribusiness leaders at the Union League Club to host a brainstorming session for improving Clinton’s outreach, followed by a widely attended “leaders of American Agriculture” reception, keynoted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
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