Thursday Jun 30, 2022
Thursday Jun 30, 2022

Democrats find support for Biden in small-city America

2021 Mar 13, 12:25,
Abdi Sabrie works in his home office Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Eagle Lake, Minn. As Democrats continue to lose votes in small towns, they've seen clear gains in regional hubs that dot vast stretches of rural America. President Joe Biden carried roughly 60 counties that Donald Trump won in 2016, and many were places anchored by a midsized or small city that is trending Democratic. (AP Photo/Pat Christman)

Mary McGaw grew up in a Republican home on the rural prairie of south central Minnesota. But as she moved from her tiny town of Amboy to the nearest city of Mankato to study nursing, her politics migrated too.

McGaw was moved by the plight of underinsured and became concerned about the viability of safety programs. She cast her vote for Democrat Joe Biden in November, and nearly 3 months later, she is pleased with how hard the new president is fighting for his priorities.

“He’s trying to get something done, even though there’s pushback from all sides,” said the 37-year-old registered nurse, who now works at a Mankato branch of the Mayo Clinic.

McGaw’s transformation is driving Democrats’ hopes as they charge into what the party considers its new frontier: small-city America.

As Democrats continue to lose votes in small towns, they’ve seen clear gains in regional hubs that dot stretches of rural America. Biden carried roughly 60 counties President Donald Trump won in 2016, many were places anchored by a mid-sized or small city that is trending Democratic. They include places like Grand Rapids, Michigan; Wilmington, North Carolina; Dayton, Ohio and Mankato’s Blue Earth County.

Their similarities are striking: Most include universities or, like Mankato, large medical centers that draw educated and racially diverse newcomers. Their economies are better than average. And in 2020, their voters showed a bipartisan streak — voting for Biden for president and Republicans down-ballot in large numbers.

“These voters are in line with Biden’s personal brand,” said Robert Griffin, research director for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, a bipartisan demographic and public opinion team. “He’s pegged as a moderate Democrat, rightly. But he’s also making sure there’s room for moderation in the party.”

Biden won Blue Earth County by 4.5 percentage points, about the same percentage Democrat Hillary Clinton lost it by in 2016. In November, voters in the area dumped 30-year Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, arguably the most conservative Democrat in Congress, but reelected two Democratic state lawmakers.

Interviews with voters around Mankato help make sense of this partisan zigzagging. While there remains robust support for Trump, voters stress that action carries more weight than ideological purity. Even devout Democratic activists who wish the new $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package — Biden’s chief legislative accomplishment so far — contained more aren’t frustrated.

Mary McGaw Minnesota Joe Bidden
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