October 20, 2017

The Wisconsin county Democrats need to compete again in the rural Midwest

Trempealeau County, Wis., is home to quiet towns and quaint villages nestled among rolling hills in the rugged Upper Mississippi River Valley. Most of the county’s 30,000 residents are white, churchgoing, employed, and fond of hunting, fishing, camping or canoeing. Yet despite its conservative makeup, Trempealeau has historically voted for Democratic candidates for president. Barack Obama won the county twice by double digits.

But Trempealeau was one of 22 Wisconsin counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. Trump was the first Republican in 32 years to win Wisconsin, taking the state by less than one percentage point after Obama won it by 7 points in 2012.

Arcadia, Trempealeau County’s largest city with 3,000 residents, has seen an influx of Latinos in recent years to do agricultural work and work at the Ashley Furniture headquarters. From 2000 to 2014, the percentage of Hispanics in Arcadia grew from 3 percent to 35 percent, and Latino businesses now line Main Street. Some journalists have portrayed Trump’s victory here as a reaction to these immigrant newcomers. But there’s a deeper story to be told.

Trump won dozens of counties in the Upper Mississippi River Valley that for decades had voted for Democrats for president. His victory might have had as much to do with the direction of the Democratic Party and what its agenda offers rural voters as it did with Trump’s message.

Hillary Clinton didn’t campaign much in the rural Midwest, and when she did her message—assailing Trump’s unfitness for office, playing the gender card and focusing on urban voters—didn’t resonate with rural voters who were looking for candidates with clear policy agendas. Political leaders in the state say that for Democrats to compete in 2018 and beyond, they need to reconnect with the rural voters of Trempealeau County and beyond.

This video was originally featured as a part of the Washington Examiner’s series The Race to 2020: The people and places that will define a presidency. You can read more about Trempealeau County, see more videos, or use the form below to get email updates about future updates.

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