by Anthony Flaccavento
As the Democratic Candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 9th, I often find myself down wind of the “urban-rural” divide. Policy decisions made in Richmond and Washington blow through periodically; expert advice from pundits and campaign professionals breezes in now and again; occasional media profiles speculate as to whether we’re dying or already dead; and highly educated friends anguish aloud about why we vote against our own interests.
One thing that doesn’t often reach us rural-down-wind candidates from our upwind urban brethren is, well, money. Campaign funds. Or even a concerted effort to mobilize such funds and channel them in our direction. There are exceptions to this – WinDEM for one, which has set out specifically to help candidates across the Commonwealth gain recognition and support from more affluent supporters, primarily in the cities. And there’s Stacy Snyder’s Together Virginia, who along with several leaders from Network NOVA are sponsoring a ‘rural-urban dialog’ and fundraiser, this Thursday evening, September 20th, at Lyon Park in Arlington. These efforts are most welcome, but they remain the exception.
In my campaign, we’ve raised about three quarters of a million dollars to date, a very modest (some would say, inadequate) amount for a congressional race. But fully 80% of that has come from within our district, and none of it from corporate PACs or the like. It’s not that I don’t try to get money from NOVA, Richmond, DC and elsewhere – I’ve called many hundreds of people in those areas, some of them multiple times. Most just tell me they’re focused on candidates in their own areas, and then wish me luck in my ‘tough race’.
I completely understand why individual donors are choosing to focus more locally, and beyond that, how they’re just plain tired of being harangued for money. Fair enough.
Here’s what I don’t get: Why the DCCC and most of the rest of the liberal establishment in Washington believe that spending large sums of money on extremely safe urban races makes more sense than investing in the candidates and the infrastructure that might, over time, actually move some rural districts from Republican to Democrat.
Just how safe are these urban districts? In 2016, Democrats who won Congressional seats, most of whom were in cities, prevailed by overwhelming margins, averaging nearly 68% of the vote in their victories. That’s 2:1. From a Republican point of view, you could call those districts “hopelessly Blue”.
So why channel so much money into these races while effectively ignoring progressive stirrings in the 9th District or elsewhere? Why not invest in campaigns that have proven their mettle, on the ground, that are mobilizing an unusually broad base of supporters that might in fact represent the missing parts of the ‘big tent’ Democrats are always talking about? Why not target at least some national funds into regions where TV is relatively inexpensive, where you get a lot of bang for your buck? Why not invest in these candidates, in the local Democratic Committees and the grassroots organizations that it will take to win back working people in rural areas? Why not, indeed.
Some in the Democratic Party bristle at the idea that we’ve become too cozy with the elites, that we’ve lost touch with working folks, farmers and rural communities. Okay then. Prove me wrong. Start now, today, 48 days from the election. Begin in earnest the work that it will take to break the Republican stranglehold on rural America, something that’s undermining the nation as a whole. Do that by embracing the candidates – and their teams – who live and work there, who understand their communities, who know people’s priorities and how to talk about them. Stop writing us off. Start working with us. We’ll all be the better for it.
Anthony Flaccavento, a farmer and small business owner from Abingdon, is the Democratic Candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 9th Congressional District. You can learn more about his campaign at www.flacc4congress.com.