Heidi Heitkamp talks to famers during her unsuccessful bid for a second term as a North Dakota senator. (Photo source Heidi for North Dakota via Flickr, Creative Commons)

A leader of an effort to promote Democratic candidates in all 50 states says the most recent federal jobs report shows that Trump administration policies are hurting American workers.

“As resilient as American workers are, they cannot stop President Trump’s reckless policies from wreaking havoc on our economy,” said Heidi Heitkamp, a founding board member of the One Country Project and former U.S. senator from North Dakota. “We need the president to stop threatening the livelihoods of Americans across the country with his trade policies and work to stabilize the agriculture and manufacturing markets that power America’s rural communities.”

The May jobs report showed virtually no growth in construction, manufacturing, and agricultural industries combined. Heitkamp said those industries are “bearing the brunt of President Trump’s poor decisions,” according to a press release.

Heitkamp lost her seat to former U.S. Representative Kevin Kramer by 11 points in 2018. In April she launched the One Country Project with another one-term Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Donnelly lost his seat to Republican Mike Braun in 2018 by 6 points.

Iowan J.D. Scholten, a 2018 Democratic congressional candidate who narrowly lost a bid for Iowa’s 4th District, will also be joining the One Country Project’s board. (Photo source: Iowa Press via Iowa Public Television)

Earlier this month, One Country Project announced that Iowan J.D. Scholten, a 2018 Democratic congressional candidate in Iowa’s 4th District, is also joining the organization’s board. Scholten, a Sioux City native, lost to Republican incumbent Steve King by 3 points – a margin that “made him a local hero in Democratic circles,” according to the Des Moines Register.

The One Country Project is focused on reaching rural voters by focusing on rural opportunities while criticizing President Trump’s track record on rural issues. The One Country Project is an IRS 501(c)4 organization, meaning it may lobby and support or oppose political candidates.

“We launched this project to convene a national dialogue so that rural people can be heard and recognized, so that rural issues are addressed,” said Heitkamp in an interview with the Daily Yonder. “There are opportunities for Democrats to win back rural America, but they have to know how to win.”

Heitkamp said that the project was created to provide data, messaging, polling and strategic advice to help Democratic candidates reach rural voters.

“This is a fundamentally American strategy,” Heitkamp said. “The Democratic Party needs to better understand the disparities between rural and urban parts of the country: economic disparities, health care disparities, education disparities. You can’t have a thriving economy” with these trends, Heitkamp said.

Former Indiana senator Joe Donnelly, one of the project’s board members

The One Country Project political analysis includes the following data points:

  • The Democratic Party has won five of the last six presidential popular votes, but two of those resulted in electoral college defeats, including after a 2.1% popular vote win in 2016 — delivering the presidency to Trump.
  • The massive decline in support for Democrats in rural counties in critical states – including Pennsylvania (-46), Michigan (-28), and Wisconsin (-20) – prevented Democratic victory. This is despite Democrats reaching or exceeding their goal in urban areas.
  • The party’s increasing appeal to voters in base states could add popular votes in 2020, but it does little to smooth the path to victory. Regaining a foothold in rural areas will help put more states back on the table and turn our votes into wins.

Much of One Country Project’s policy analysis is focused on distinguishing between Trump’s actions and Democrats’ agenda on health care, education, infrastructure and economic development.

“Who are the largest employers in rural America?” Heitkamp asked. “It’s health care. It’s education. It’s agriculture and food. It’s small businesses.”

“We have to ask ourselves ‘what are the jobs of the future?’” the former senator said, pointing out that rural America is primed for economic development. “Rural communities need infrastructure and investment, certainly high speed internet. But it’s not enough to just build infrastructure. We have to have more investment in training, in education.”

Some rural economic issues Heitkamp noted were low teacher pay, the impact of tariffs on agricultural products and imported metals, and poverty.

Heitkamp also said she believes that rural health care is experiencing an under-reported crisis. “Addressing rural health care needs is critical to rural voters. Rural hospitals are struggling. Rural hospitals are closing. But we know how to solve this problem. Medicaid expansion is one of the biggest issues, one of the best options for rural America,” Heitkamp said.

In May, Heitkamp wrote an op/ed for the Washington Post calling on Democrats to reform the Affordable Care Act rather than expand Medicare to cover more Americans.

One Country plans to serve as a clearinghouse of information that “sheds light on the aspirations of rural America.” The organization’s plan also calls for building local networks and educating candidates on rural issues. The group has also developed state-based analyses and demographic profiles for Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to a press release.

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