Column: With mounting losses in the Midwest, Democrats need a solution

Despite retaking the House, Democrats perform poorly in the Midwest.

Bryce Kolk is a freshman journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Missouri is a red state. The last Democrat we voted to be president was Bill Clinton in 1996. In 2016, President Donald Trump took the state by almost 20 points.

Despite this, Missouri consistently votes for progressive reforms.

In just the past few months, Missouri voters have approved a minimum wage increase, legalized medical marijuana, killed an anti-union Right to Work referendum and voted to reform state campaign finances. Each of these progressive victories were relative landslides, with even the closest margin still 24 points different.

We also kicked incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill out of office in favor of Republican Josh Hawley. McCaskill was an outspoken advocate for these progressive causes before the election. Hawley’s record was much less clear.

So why do we keep voting for progressive policies?

The Democratic Party has a problem in the Midwest and it has little to do with their policies.

Democrats play defense far too much.

When President Trump makes outlandish claims about immigrants or minority groups, Democrats spend every second defending themselves, allowing Republicans to control this narrative. When Democrats spend every breath refuting claims, they lose the ability to make their own.

Before the election, Missourians named healthcare the most important issue, followed by the economy and, thirdly, immigration in a poll conducted by Reuters, Ipsos and the University of Virginia.

The focus on immigration is killer for Democrats in the conservative Midwest. Despite winning on economic issues, as shown by recently passed initiatives, Democrats lose on immigration. This isn’t a problem in every part of the region, however. Blue, urban counties with more immigrants are less likely to consider immigration a major problem when compared to rural, red counties, according to a study by Pew Research Center. Democrats still win cities and liberal states along the coasts. But as Republicans dominate headlines with immigration talk, Democrats are losing the Midwest.

Democrats need a concise answer to healthcare to play offense. The party is split between status quo members defending President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and those advocating an expansion of Medicare to a single-payer model.

If it wants to re-establish itself in the Midwest, the Democratic Party should rally around healthcare, as a group with one solution. Centering the conversation around health care must be a critical part of Democratic tactics for the foreseeable future, as premiums continue to rise. Candidates with large-scale solutions, such as single-payer, could be exactly what Midwestern voters are looking for.

Democrats could also take advantage of the economy. Missouri showed its pro-union leanings in the Proposition A vote in August, but many vote republican in spite of this. Supporting unions and, in kind, workers’ rights could be vital. While income inequality balloons to historic levels, making a concerted push to support workers will directly appeal to Midwesterners as local economies continue to recover from losses in manufacturing jobs.

In 2016, independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, running as a Democrat, put up strong numbers by focusing on these very issues. In the northern Midwest specifically, Sanders won states, like Michigan and Wisconsin, that would flip Republican months later in the general election. The blue wall that was supposed to assure a Democratic victory crumbled, as states like Wisconsin and Michigan fell to Republicans.

In 2020 and onward, the Democratic Party has to be stronger if it wants to succeed in the Midwest. Running progressive candidates who focus on inequality and health care could make the difference between massive gains and massive losses.

Despite nationwide House gains in the midterms, no Missouri seats flipped. Performance in Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin was lackluster as well.

Democrats need to make a focused effort on winning back the Midwest. Without the support of Midwestern states, Trump may be destined to be a two-term president.

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