How Can Democrats Reach Out to Rural Voters When They Hate What We Do for a Living?


Last month at one of the debates held for the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates, supposedly moderate front runner Joe Biden said there would be no place in his administration for oil and coal.

“Thank you, vice president. Just to clarify, would there be any place for fossil fuels including coal and fracking in a Biden administration?” CNN moderator Dana Bash asked.

That’s a poorly worded question. “Fracking” is not a fossil fuel. It is a highly effective technique for extracting previously unreachable reserves of oil and natural gas. I’m assuming Bash, who like many national news media figures is kind of clueless as to where the energy comes from, was using “fracking” as a term to represent the oil and gas industry.

But Biden’s response was clear: “No. We would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated, and no more subsidies for either one of those, any fossil fuel.”

Biden, touted as the moderate in a Democratic field which tilts sharply to the left, says he would eliminate fossil fuels in his administration.

Let’s set aside for a moment whether he could actually do that, unilaterally using executive powers, or even if he would actually do it. After all, it was the Obama administration which lifted the ban on exporting crude oil, which has been a major boon to the oil industry.

I suspect Biden is pandering to the Democratic party’s left-wing base with those comments.

Supposing he means what he says these comments – from the candidate widely described as a moderate! – are troubling in the extreme. Because the Obama years were pretty awful for the coal industry, and those of us from North Dakota remember how Biden’s old boss helped enable the violent protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A Biden presidency would probably mean a return to Obama-era hostility to fossil fuel development, at best. At worst Biden would be an even more aggressive enemy of oil, gas, and coal.

I mean, if eliminating the use of fossil fuels is the moderate position in the Democratic field, what’s the more left-wing stance?

All of this is happening in the context of Democrats trying to reach out to rural voters. “[U]nless we do a better job engaging rural Americans, Republicans will have a massive head start in every race for a Senate majority and a lock on enough seats to stand in the way of a Democratic president’s agenda,” former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp has said. “If nothing changes, Democrats will never have more than a hope and a prayer of eking out a slim Senate majority — at best.”

Heitkamp herself hasn’t been very successful at winning over red state voters – she’s won just one, flukey statewide election in North Dakota in the last 20 years – but her words here ring true.

How can Democrats say they care about rural and red state voters when they’re so glib about shutting down the energy industry which contributes to the prosperity of so many rural, red state citizens?

The oil and gas industry contribute about half of all the tax revenues collected by the State of North Dakota. About 9 – 10 percent of all employed North Dakotans work directly for the oil and gas industry. Tens of thousands more owe their jobs to the industry indirectly. Earlier this year it was reported that the oil and gas industry had a $32.6 billion impact on the state’s economy.

Just to put that into perspective, the entire gross domestic product of North Dakota in 2006 was $26.4 billion.

And that’s just oil. I haven’t even told you about coal.

I should point out that the Obama administration wasn’t exactly popular with farmers either. One way Trump won the love of rural America was his kept promise to roll back Obama-era regulations on agriculture.

The Democratic front-runner for the White House, again a supposed moderate, says there’s no place for fossil fuels in his potential administration.

If he really means what he says, that would be economically devastating for North Dakota.

And yet, North Dakotans are supposed to trust Democratic candidates with that sort of rhetoric coming from their top, national candidates?