Heitkamp: “[U]nless we do a better job engaging rural Americans, Republicans will have a massive head start in every race for a Senate majority”
In April, former Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) launched the One Country Project. They developed this project as an effort to help Democrats win back the Senate and White House in 2020. The focus of the project is on rural America and its “forgotten” voters who turned out in droves for President Trump in 2016.
They are now sounding the alarm and warning Democrats that winning the Senate in 2020 is an uphill battle. And they’re not wrong.
KVRR reported on the group’s launch at the time:
Two former Democratic senators from red states who lost re-election bids in 2018 are leading a campaign to help their party win back votes in rural America.
North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly are starting an initiative called the One Country Project.
Its website states that Democrats need to “reopen the dialogue” in areas where people have traditionally voted Republican.
The group aims to get Democrats on board to retake the White House in 2020.
The One Country Project’s focus on rural voters is unmistakable on their website. Their stated mission is as follows:
The One Country Project is dedicated to reopening the dialogue with rural communities, rebuilding trust and respect, and advancing an opportunity agenda for rural Americans.
They have also posted the following graphic showing the importance of the rural voter in presidential elections:
Additionally, they feature “In the News” stories focused on issues of concern to rural voters whom Democrats have ridiculed, insulted, and ignored for decades.
Heitkamp is among the few remaining Democrats who knew all along that “deplorables” vote, too. Donnelly, not so much. Nonetheless, they’ve joined forces to turn out the rural vote for Democrats . . . and in warning Democrats that they may not win the Senate in 2020.
Republicans have a significant head start in the race to keep control of the Senate, per this group’s analysis.
- Because of their stronghold in rural areas, and based on previous presidential election results, the GOP has a 40-seat, “built-in base in the Senate.”
- Compare that to just 26 Senate seats that Democrats are best positioned to win.
- That’s prompting some Democrats — like former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who’s a founding member of One Country Project — to sound the alarm ahead of 2020.
“[U]nless we do a better job engaging rural Americans, Republicans will have a massive head start in every race for a Senate majority and a lock on enough seats to stand in the way of a Democratic president’s agenda,” Heitkamp said. “If nothing changes, Democrats will never have more than a hope and a prayer of eking out a slim Senate majority — at best.” [emphasis in original]
While Democrats in 2020 are defending only 12 Senate seats to the Republican 22, they are facing a disadvantage because the majority of the Republican seats are in states that went heavily for Trump in 2016.
Those “built-in” advantages are based on each party’s “base” states, where they won the presidential vote by 10 percentage points or more in the last election.
- Democrats won 13 states by that measure in 2016, which translates to 26 Senate seats.
- Republicans won 20 states by that measure, which gives them an advantage in 40 Senate races.
- In 2020, there are 22 Republican incumbents up for re-election compared to just 12 Democratic senators.
- Conventional wisdom says that the GOP should be more vulnerable given those numbers. But since these Republican incumbents mostly come from states that heavily support President Trump — and considering Senate results increasingly match presidential results — this could pose another challenge for Democrats.
The Democrats could make modest gains, but it seems unlikely, at this point, that they will retake the Senate. Indeed, they could conceivably lose more seats to Republicans in 2020.
The No. 1 item on the agenda for Democrats in 2020 is defeating Donald Trump. But the Democratic agenda hinges on retaking the Senate. And that could be an uphill battle.
Senate Republicans hold a three-seat majority and will have to defend 22 seats in 2020. Democrats, meanwhile, are up in just 12 states. But the map still doesn’t look good for them.
“What makes this map very deceiving was in 2018, Democrats had to defend five seats in states Trump won by 19 points or more,” said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “In this case, there’s no Republican sitting in a state that Clinton won by more than 5.”
Just three Republican seats seem truly competitive, as far as the Cook Political Report is concerned: Colorado, Arizona, and Maine. The rest is a sea of red, including the seat Democrats have to defend in ultraconservative Alabama.
Ultimately, the eventual Democrat presidential nominee will also likely influence how rural voters vote down-ballot. If Democrats select a raving socialist lunatic hellbent on economy- and nation-destroying policies like the ones in the current clown car of progressive/socialist/communist presidential hopefuls trumpet, their chances of flipping a red seat will be vanishingly small.DONATE
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