OPINION: Return of retail politics

Last week, we heard a lot about Cheri Beasley’s “go everywhere” strategy. The U.S. Senate candidate is traveling to counties across the state, talking to voters, and trying to build momentum for her campaign in a state that has only elected on Democrat to the U.S. Senate once in the past 20 years. And it appears to be paying dividends. Polls have her tied or leading.

Yesterday, the Washington Post wrote a piece on Beto O’Rourke and his quest to become governor of Texas, a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in more than 30 years. The Post writes, “Beto is holding more than 70 public events in 49 days trying to convince people in mostly small, rural and often incredibly red towns around the state that he should be their next governor.” O’Rourke is facing more hostile crowds than Beasley and is naturally more confrontational. The story says, “He lives to debate.”

Beasley and O’Rourke are making retail politics fashionable again. Instead of relying mostly on television, digital, and other paid advertising, the candidates are literally meeting candidates where they live. The tactic is long overdue in states like Texas and North Carolina. (To his credit, Jeff Jackson made a 100 county tour in his primary, but he was mainly talking to other Democrats.)

Neither Beasley nor O’Rourke will win most these counties that they are visiting. However, they might cut the margin and they might make voters, even those who oppose them, think slightly differently about the two Democrats. That’s the first step in ending the demonization that has led Democrats to hemorrhage rural votes.

Democrats can’t continue to lose votes in rural and suburban areas if they hope to stay competitive in North Carolina. And they can’t govern very easily if they have no trust or respect in areas that might not make up a majority of voters but do make up a majority of municipalities.

It’s tough competing against a conservative media complex that casts Democrats as opposed to everything sacred to rural voters. Paid advertising won’t work. People don’t believe what they see on TV or the internet unless it’s delivered by the hosts or platforms they trust. In-person visits might be the best way to penetrate the confirmation bias that partisans seek. As the article in Beto noted, his visits create a buzz and he often returns for second or third visits and the crowds grow each time.

Democrats need to do something to improve their image with voters. In North Carolina since the first of the year, more than 43,000 Democrats have changed their registration to either Republican or unaffiliated. Only about 24,000 Republicans have changed their registration. That’s a problem for Democrats.

What Beto and Beasley are doing is a beginning and shouldn’t be judged just by the success of their campaigns. Democrats need to start connecting with voters who don’t agree with them on everything, or even disagree with them on most things. Taking the fight into territory with few votes may at least earn respect and that’s a first step to being heard.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Mills spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant. Republished from PoliticsNC.com.

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