The Endangered Rural House Democrat

Source: By Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor • Posted: Thursday, November 5, 2020

Rep. Collin Peterson’s loss on Tuesday in Minnesota basically swept out one of the last few senior, rural Democratic lawmakers from across the country.

Beyond coastal states, Democrats in each election are representing fewer and fewer rural districts.

Before Republicans flipped the House in the 2010 mid-term election, there was a fair amount of blue splotched in with the red in the Midwest and Plains states. That’s not the case any longer, even though Democrats overall are expected to hold onto the House majority. Right now, decided House races are 208 Democrats, 190 Republicans with 37 races remaining to be called.

Still, most of the major crops and livestock regions of the country — North, South, East or West — now almost exclusively will be represented in the House by Republicans, reflecting a one of the most significant political shifts over the past decade.

That should raise more questions about how the House will approach rural and agricultural issues with a Democratic majority, but fewer rural Democratic voices.

The dearth of Democratic representatives in rural districts starts as far east as New York’s Hudson River valley, moving west into the Ohio River valley, Down the Mississippi River valley, across the Great Plains and up through the Missouri River valley over into western Oregon.

Before 2010, Democrats represented the bulk of congressional districts in the Northern Midwest and Northern Plains states. North and South Dakota, most of Minnesota, most of Wisconsin, northern Michigan, the eastern half of Iowa and multiple districts in Illinois. Nearly all of that territory has shifted Republican in elections over the past decade.

Out of those seven states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois — Democrats now hold fewer than a hand of congressional districts in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin that includes several rural counties.

Representing dairy areas, Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin’s 3rd District, in mostly western Wisconsin along the Mississippi River, has been a long-time advocate for tightening farm-program payments and reforming the farm bill, though he doesn’t serve on the Ag Committee. Kind is instead involved in tax and trade policy on the House Ways & Means Committee.

Also from Wisconsin is Rep. Mark Pocan in the 2nd District in south-central Wisconsin, including Madison. Pocan is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, where he serves on the Agriculture Subcommittee, which decides how USDA’s discretionary funds are spent.

Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois’ 17th District, along the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois, won her fifth term. Bustos is effectively the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee representing the Corn Belt.

Rep. Cindy Axne of Iowa’s 3rd District in Southwest Iowa. Another member of the House Agriculture Committee, Axne keeps the 15-county district only because she wins in Polk County, which includes Des Moines and its suburbs.

That is pretty much it terms of Midwest Democrats representing heavily rural districts.

Democrats have lost large territories in the South as well. Arkansas before 2010 had three of four congressional districts represented by Democrats. Now there are none. Much is the same in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia each have some districts with larger rural areas. Republicans now largely hold most of those seats as well.

Then it’s the large chunks of states such as districts in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, but Republicans have gained more rural districts in those states also. In the Northeast, there is Main, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Chris Clayton can be reached at