In a column for Real Clear Politics former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan bemoans the atrophy Democrats have suffered in elected office across the country, particularly out here in the flyover states.
“Democrats Must Show Up to Win Back Heartland Voters,” reads the headline:
Nearly one-third of the Democrats now serving in the U.S. House of Representatives come from just two states, California and New York. Startling, isn’t it? Good for California and New York. But that statistic also describes how the Democratic Party has become a largely a bicoastal entity and has consciously abandoned much of the heartland.
While the “blue” coastal states have been very successful electing Democrats, much of the heartland of America has been dismissed as “fly-over country,” which has helped turn them into Republican “red” states. As a consequence, they have been largely ignored by our national party and Democrat presidential contenders.
“The collapse of support in local legislative races and races for the governorships in America’s heartland should sound the alarm,” Dorgan continues. “In the past decade my party lost over 1,000 state legislative seats, nine U.S. Senate seats, 62 House seats and 12 governorships.”
That is some ugly math for our liberal friends. I’m not surprised Dorgan is worried about it given his recent campaigning on behalf of Senator Heidi Heitkamp.
According to Dorgan the problem is the lack of attention liberal politicians give to “fly-over country.” I’m not sure that’s the case. I think the problem has more to do with the Democratic policies embracing policies that, on the whole, aren’t very good for this part of the world. Oil, coal, and to a lesser extent production agriculture are industries treated as the enemy by vast swaths of the Democratic base. Yet those industries also put food on the table for most North Dakotans.
No amount of stumping in North Dakota by Democratic politicians is going to change that reality.
But let’s stipulate for a moment that Dorgan is right. That Democrats have lost ground in elected office because they aren’t spending enough time pitching woo at the rubes who live outside the urban and coastal enclaves that serve as the bastions of American liberalism.
Isn’t Dorgan himself an example of the problem?
Let’s not forget that during Dorgan’s last years in office he claimed as his official home in North Dakota, for the sake of complying with our state’s loose residency laws, a tiny apartment in a building in Bismarck owned by his colleague, former Senator Kent Conrad, who also had an apartment across the hall.
Here’s a photo of the building, courtesy of the Bismarck-Mandan Blog:
And here’s Dorgan’s name on the mailbox inside as it appeared when he was claiming this place as his residence back before his resignation from the Senate in 2010:
To add some extra flavor to this anecdote,the apartment building was at one time financed by a VIP loan from Countrywide Mortgage (yes, that Countrywide) for which Senator Conrad got an extra special discount which he later claimed he knew nothing about. Because doesn’t everyone negotiate their mortgage with the CEO of the bank?
Anyway, while Dorgan was claiming that as his official residence, he was living in a mansion in McLean, Virginia (there was a lovely article about it in Home & Design magazine in 2013).
Where do you think Dorgan was actually living? This beautiful home in Virginia, or the dumpy apartment in Bismarck?
Conrad, for his part, was living in a multi-million dollar Delaware beach house.
If Byron Dorgan is going to argue that Democrats abandoned “fly-over country” shouldn’t he also point the finger at himself? Given that he couldn’t bring himself to actually live here while he was a Senator representing North Dakota?
Again, I don’t think the problems Democrats face in places like North Dakota have to do with how much attention they pay to our part of the world. I think their problems stem from a policy platform that is fundamentally detrimental to life and business here. But to the extent that the argument has merit, Byron Dorgan is probably the worst possible messenger for it.