According to this report from NPR the reliably Republican vote out of the rural areas of our country is staring to turn Democratic and the war in Iraq seems to be the reason. This is a very important development. The rural vote is credited with giving Bush both his 2000 and 2004 election victories.
What’s important to remember is that Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Chair, realized the importance of the rural vote in 2005 when he encouraged Ted Strickland to run for governor. Prior to 2006, and since 1962, Ohio Democrats had nominated eight candidates for governor. Seven of them had come from the top five counties in the state based on population. Those seven candidates won a total of three elections.
The reason why they lost was that they weren’t able to run up enough votes in the big counties to off set their losses in the areas outside of the large urban counties. The same thing happened in 2004 when Kerry won the larger counties, but lost counties that bordered the large urban counties such as Medina, Delaware, and Butler. They also lost more rural counties and didn’t carry the southeastern part of Ohio.
Contrast this with Ted Strickland who is from a rural part of Ohio. He carried not only the large urban counties, but ran up the vote in the rural parts of Ohio. He carried the southeastern part of the State.
Why did Strickland do so well all over Ohio? It is tempting to agree with the conventional wisdom and say it was largely because the Republicans nominated a nutcase for Governor. Like most conventional wisdom, however, the GOP nomination of Blackwell is only part of the story. Another part of the story is that Strickland was able to appeal to all sorts of Ohioans, not just those from large urban counties.
Take guns for example. Strickland’s position on guns is not favored by a lot of Ohio Democrats who come from large urban counties. Yet, in 2006, it was not possible for the GOP to demonize Strickland on this issue. Because the GOP couldn’t demonize Strickland on that issue, a lot of voters for whom guns are a deal breaker actually listened to Strickland on other issues such as education, jobs, and corruption.
Redfern deserves credit for realizing that the Ohio Democratic Party had to expand its reach in order to win state-wide victories in 2006. National Democrats who want to learn about winning the rural vote could do a lot worse than talking to both Strickland and Redfern.