The Campaign Spot

Grimes, Davis, and the Great Democratic Rural Hopes

It is the time of year when leaves fall from the trees and races fall from the national committee’s priorities list.

Republicans went through their sad moment a few days ago when the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled their ads from Michigan, an ominous indicator for former secretary of state Terri Lynn Land. If the NRSC is going to spend an additional $6 million trying to help Thom Tillis in North Carolina, those resources have to come from somewhere.

Now the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is pulling the plug on its television ads in Kentucky, to help Allison Lundergan Grimes: “The DSCC had not reserved time for the final three weeks of the race and, as of today, is no longer on the air.”

Grimes follows a long and not-so-proud tradition of Democratic candidates running in traditionally red states who were heralded by the national media as signs of a changing era, helping usher in an era of a permanent Democratic majority. Call them the Great Democratic Rural Hopes. The national media loves to write these sorts of stories. They’re usually pictured on a farm or at a state fair. The headline is some variation of, “You may think that [insert Southern or Midwestern state here] is Republican territory. [Insert candidate name here] is about to prove you wrong.”

The glowing profiles go on to showcase how the candidate grew up on a farm, goes to church, wears cowboy boots, offers some kind of pro forma claim to want a more efficient government, and then veers into standard anti-corporation populism. Their campaign commercials feature them shooting a lot, but they’re often leaving some wiggle room for the nebulous “common-sense gun reform.” If they’re not managed by “Mudcat” Saunders, they’ve at least read his book.

Sometimes the Great Democratic Rural Hopes go on to win. Sometimes they have decent careers. Very rarely do they genuinely signal a shift in a state’s identity, and quite often they end up flopping, a greater indicator of what the national media wants to see in these states than what’s actually going on.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore technically qualify as Great Democratic Rural Hopes, although the irony is that Arkansas and Tennessee shifted more to the Republicans after 1992.

A reasonably successful Great Democratic Rural Hope includes Mark Warner in Virginia, and we can put former senator Jim Webb of Virginia and Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius in the “somewhat successful” category. (The cabinet is where rising stars go to disappear, isn’t it? Has anyone seen Julian Castro lately?) North Carolina’s John Edwards certainly got this treatment. Georgia governnor Roy Barnes was set to get this until he lost his reelection bid in 2002.

Every once in a while, you see a Blue State Republican get roughly the equivalent coverage — Scott Brown, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie — although in the case of Christie, the profiles tend to emphasize how moderate and sensible and centrist this Republican is compared to all of those scary, extremist ones elsewhere.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis also got the treatment this year. This year Alison Lundergan Grimes raised more than $11 million; Davis raised more than $13 million. Lucky for Republicans that media hype helped persuade Democratic donors to give money to their longshot campaigns instead of races where it could have made a bigger difference.

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