I was re-elected as Montana’s governor in 2016 at the same time Donald Trump took our state by more than 20 points. It’s never easy for Democrats to get elected in Montana, because Democrats here are running against not only the opponent on the ballot, but also against conservative media’s (and at times our own) typecast of the national Democratic brand: coastal, overly educated, elitist, judgmental, socialist — a bundle of identity groups and interests lacking any shared principles. The problem isn’t the candidates we nominate. It’s the perception of the party we belong to.
To overcome these obstacles, Democrats need to show up, listen, and respect voters in rural America by finding common ground instead of talking down to them. Eliminating student loans isn’t a top-of-mind matter for the two-thirds of Americans lacking a college degree. Being told that climate change is the most critical issue our nation faces rings hollow if you’re struggling to make it to the end of the month. And the most insulting thing is being told what your self-interest should be.