Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Keep It Rural, an email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Like what you see? Join the mailing list for more rural news, thoughts, and analysis in your inbox each week.

Hey Politicians, Pay Attention to Rural Voters (and Start Now)

The 2024 election season feels like it’s already underway as news of presidential candidacies trickles in, including President Joe Biden, who announced he will be running for reelection two weeks ago. Other Democratic candidates include Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.; Republican candidates include Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. I’m already tired thinking about tracking these candidates’ campaign trails, but I am still very curious to see where – and how far – their journeys will take them, and how rural they’ll get. 

I analyzed data compiled by the Chicago Tribune from the 2020 presidential campaign to see exactly where Biden and Trump went during their final sprints toward election day. Between September 1 and November 3, 2020, both men, with their vice presidential candidates, traveled to a total of 231 locations. But how many rural stops? 

Of the 231 campaign stops, 54 were in towns with less than 20,000 people. On first glance, this isn’t too shabby – 54 out of 231 is about 23%, which is more than the estimated 20% of the U.S. population that lives in rural America. 

But things get more interesting when you break down this number: visits from either Donald Trump or Mike Pence made up 42 of the 54 rural stops; from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, only 12. 

Unfortunately, this tracks for the Democratic Party. 

Despite examples of Democrats campaigning successfully in rural areas (Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, Maine’s Chloe Maxmin, or Washington’s Marie Gluesenkamp Perez), many Democrats are still writing off rural America as a lost cause, or fly-over country not worth stopping in, even if stopping in those regions could mean the difference between winning or losing. In Pennsylvania last November, John Fetterman did not win rural counties, but he did perform 2.4 points better than President Biden did in 2020. This small margin pushed Fetterman over the edge to victory, according to Daily Yonder analysis

Candidates are gearing-up not only for presidential races, but for Senate races too, which promise to be eventful for the Democratic Party: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (the latter of whom was a Democrat, and is now an Independent) are up for re-election; Debbie Stabenow and Dianne Feinstein are retiring. As recent history has shown, campaigning in rural places is key to success.

Now is the time for candidates from both sides of the aisle to plan to visit rural places. The pay-off could be very big.

Rural Reading List

Horse-Industry Job-Training Programs Provide Employment and a Second Chance

My incredible colleague Anya Slepyan wrote this article about an equine program in Kentucky that provides an alternative recovery path for people struggling with addiction and formerly incarcerated individuals.

The 10-Year Battle that Will Shape the Future of Lake Tahoe’s Olympic Valley

This story about a proposed development project in Lake Tahoe’s Olympic Valley is an excellent example of what happens when recreation development happens in an area with limited places to grow. In this fire-prone region, evacuating the thousands of people new development promises to bring could cause deadly consequences.

Q&A: The Surprising Truth About Oregon’s Seafood Industry

About 90% of the seafood produced on the Oregon coast is exported. Tourism expert Marcus Hinz sees potential to boost the economies of the small communities that dot the coast by localizing food systems.

One More Thing: Rights for Salmon

If you’re a devoted Keep it Rural subscriber, you’ll know my obsession with salmon and other aquatic species (look no further than the last article in the rural reading list), so you can imagine my interest in a decision made in Seattle last week regarding the “rights of salmon.” 

The city decided to greenlight fish passageways on three Washington dams after pressure from a lawsuit filed by the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe to build migratory infrastructure for salmon that have been unable to swim beyond the state’s hydroelectric dams. Biologists say the passageways will increase salmon populations, benefiting the people and animals that rely on these fish for food. 

The lawsuit hinged on a concept called the “Rights of Nature,” which claims an ecosystem is entitled to legal personhood. Indigenous law experts say the rights of nature could be a vital tool in defending tribal sovereignty. 

Several countries have recognized these rights as law, but the United States has not followed suit, yet. Seattle’s decision could move the needle in that direction.

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