On his Nov. 2 election preview edition of "Meet the Press," host Chuck Todd asked Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE (D-Ark.) "what should Obama learn from this election season?" Pryor, who went down to defeat yesterday in a Republican wave, replied: "I wish he were more in touch with rural America."

Pryor's lament could extend to the Democrats as a whole, because in recent election cycles they have been sprinting away from rural voters faster than Usain Bolt.

Much has been made of President Obama's unpopularity in the hinterlands (most of it racial). The president has never looked comfortable in the countryside, once complaining in his first campaign that the Hy-Vee supermarkets in Iowa did not carry any arugula in their produce counters. And Obama failed to even show up at his long-delayed National Rural Summit.


But the Democrats' problems with rural folks go beyond the president's skin color and are due to a variety of factors ranging from recruiting poor candidates, not showing up in small towns to campaign, hiring urban-centric consultants who have no dirt under their nails to bad mapmaking as a result of the 2010 redistricting.

This was a confounding election in so many ways. Democrats knew that rural voters would be critical to their success, yet they fell short in key Senate, House and gubernatorial races. Pryor, who as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee's spending panel on agriculture was in charge of writing the annual bill to fund popular programs such as broadband, rural development, research and extension, was dumped by a congressman who voted against the farm bill and disaster aid for tornado and flood-ravaged Arkansas towns. In a state where poultry, rice, cotton and soybeans are huge pillars of the state economy, that is a big deal. But punishing Obama rated a higher priority this year.

Farm bill politics also played a role in the Senate races in Georgia and Iowa. Outgoing Iowa Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinBiden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa We need a voting rights workaround MORE (D) must have heartburn at the thought of Sen.-elect Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund MORE (R) replacing him. Ernst, who is far to the right of former Sen. Roger Jepsen (R), the man Harkin ousted in 1984, said she was against the 2014 farm bill and did not support wind power, a renewable energy bright spot for many Midwestern states. Add to that Democratic Senate nominee Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce Lowell BraleyThe Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster OPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP MORE's dissing of Iowa farmers and his digs at current Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Capitol insurrection hearing exposes Trumpworld delusions MORE (R-Iowa), and it was a recipe for driving rural voters into the GOP column, which they did in droves. Braley did himself no favor by importing Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D) to stump for him, allowing Republicans to remind voters that the Massachusetts liberal voted against the farm bill herself.

Georgia's Sen.-elect David PerdueDavid PerdueLoeffler meets with McConnell amid speculation of another Senate run Georgia agriculture commissioner launches Senate campaign against Warnock Georgia Republican secretary of state hits Loeffler as 'weak,' 'fake Trumper' MORE (R) also boasted that he would have voted against the farm bill, but Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn could not seem to make political hay out of it. Nunn's use of high-profile surrogates such as President Bill Clinton was all in Atlanta when the "Big Dog" might have better been used to excite rural voters in Tifton and Waycross. "[B]lacks in Atlanta are liberals," bemoaned Ted Sadler, a former staffer to Rep. Sanford Bishop (D) and publisher of the blog Project Logic GA. Sadler said Democrats "focused on liberals in Atlanta that would have a hard time voting for moderates Nunn and (gubernatorial candidate Jason) Carter. The better move would have been rural blacks who are more conservative. In the end, too much money went into TV ads rather than the roll up your sleeves GOTV ["get out the vote"] that actually works."

Wisconsin's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, who lost to Gov. Scott Walker (R), put out a detailed plan for growing her state's rural economies as part of her jobs agenda, but Burke could not win rural counties in the northeast Fox Valley and other parts of the Badger State to go with her base in Madison and Milwaukee.

In Massachusetts, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley's consultants employed a strategy of going after voters in the Bay State's gateway cities. Coakley, who is originally from the western part of the commonwealth, failed to campaign in the Hilltowns and North Quabbin regions and while she won three of the four western counties, her margins were too small in many rural towns that should have been blowout wins for her and could have provided the margin of victory over Republican Charlie Baker.

The loss of majority-rural House seats also continues to haunt the Democrats. New York's 21st and Maine's 2nd congressional districts offer case studies in poor recruiting by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). In far upstate New York, Aaron Woolf's problems with heath code violations and employee wages and the fact that he seemed more city slicker than North Country doomed his bid to hold retiring Rep. Bill OwensWilliam (Bill) Lewis OwensThe resurgence of 60 Minutes CBS hires CNN tech reporter for Quibi Black pastor tells CNN's Lemon that Trump doesn't 'just attack black people. He attacks anybody' MORE's seat for the Democrats.

Likewise in northern Maine, Democrats backed Emily Cain from the liberal college town of Orono over Troy Jackson in the primary to hold outgoing Rep. Mike MichaudMichael (Mike) Herman MichaudRecord number of LGBT candidates running for governor What to watch in Tuesday’s primary elections Democrats need an experienced leader on House VA committee MORE's seat. Jackson, a former logger, was more of a centrist in the mold of Michaud. Republican Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinTrump battle with Fox News revived by Arizona projection Rep. Jared Golden wins reelection in Maine Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE ultimately defeated Cain.

The DCCC's much ballyhooed Red-to-Blue program places too much emphasis on fundraising, which is difficult in poor rural districts like Arkansas's 1st and Wisconsin's 7th. Then, when Democratic candidates seem to be making a race competitive, as Jerry Cannon did against Rep. Dan BenishekDaniel (Dan) Joseph BenishekRepublican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds Tea Party class reassesses record Michigan Republican to retire MORE (R) in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the DCCC pulls back its money for paid media in the closing weeks.

In rural Minnesota, where Democrats lost control of the state House, Nancy Larson, a former Democratic National Committee member from tiny Dassel, was trying to figure out why rural voters continue to vote against their own economic interests. "Minnesota is doing great but we're losing everybody in rural," Larson said, adding "our message must not be connecting, people aren't connecting the dots."

Barron is president of MLB Research Associate, a political consulting and rural strategy firm in Chesterfield, Mass.