Tester knocks Democrats on rural outreach

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) addresses reporters after a virtual weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.
Greg Nash

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has a message for the Democratic Party: “Show up” in rural America.

The three-term Montana senator knocked his party for what he called a lack of outreach to rural voters, telling veteran political strategist David Axelrod in an interview that Democrats will be relegated to the minority unless they start courting voters in Middle America.

“I honestly don’t think the Democratic Party can be a majority party unless we start appealing to middle America a lot more,” he said during an appearance on CNN’s “Axe Files” podcast released on Thursday. “I’m talking about the area between the two mountain ranges, the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains. And if we’re able to do that, I think it will provide success.”

Tester’s remarks come as Democrats are facing an existential threat to their razor-thing congressional majorities in this year’s midterm elections. Republicans need to flip just five seats in the House and only one in the Senate to recapture control of Congress, and historically the party in power tends to lose ground in midterms.

Tester himself has deep experience competing — and winning — in a heavily Republican part of the country. He won reelection in 2018, notching just over 50 percent of the vote and outperforming President Biden, who lost Montana to former President Trump in 2020 by more than 16 percentage points.

It’s not the first time Tester has criticized Democrats’ relationship with rural America. After the 2020 presidential election, the Montana senator told The New York Times that national Democrats’ “message is really, really flawed” when it comes to rural voters. 

In his interview with Axelrod, Tester said that the party’s brand was “toxic” in rural America and blamed national Democrats for failing to talk to voters in “places we’re not wanted.”

“It’s toxic. The national Democratic brand in, I think in rural America generally, is toxic, and it’s because, quite frankly, we don’t show up,” he said. “I’m talking about national Democrats. We’re not willing to go places we’re not wanted and answer questions.”

Tags 2020 election 2022 midterm elections David Axelrod Democratic Party Donald Trump Joe Biden Jon Tester Rural America voter outreach

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