There’s no consensus on whether rural success for Democrats is about policy or personality or some combination. Some winners establish a personal brand at odds with the national party — West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin defending the coal industry, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown opposing much of U.S. trade policy, Montana Sen. Jon Tester playing up his rancher credentials.
But that won’t necessarily work for a presidential candidate looking to become the face of a party with a decidedly liberal base. None of the declared candidates deviates from Democratic orthodoxy supporting abortion rights and LGBTQ civil rights and opposing Trump’s hard line on immigration — all positions that run afoul of rural and small-town voters who collectively are more culturally conservative than urban dwellers.
Sanders struggled with that balance in 2016 when Hillary Clinton hammered him for some Senate votes against gun measures that most Democrats backed. Sanders noted that many Vermonters, as in the rest of rural America, view guns differently than most big-city residents, but Clinton successfully used the issue against Sanders, particularly with black women.
– Bill Barrow in 2020 Democrats aim to make inroads in rural America