Building the Midwestern Blue Wall

Porter McNeil is an Illinois-based political consultant. He was Illinois communications director for the Kerry-Edwards 2004 presidential campaign and worked for Axelrod & Associates. He assisted with the 2021 “factory town” report referenced in this column. He’s currently a member of the Rock Island County Board. Follow him on Twitter @PorterMcNeil.

Looking to 2024, Democrats have a path to winning back the U.S. House that involves an all-of-the-above strategy, reaching urban, suburban, rural, and progressive working-class voters in forgotten areas. 

For a lesson in knitting together a diverse coalition of working-class, urban, suburban and even rural voters, review Senator Raphael Warnock’s re-election bid in Georgia. For a master class in reaching the working class, look at last year’s campaigns of Senator John Fetterman in Pennsylvania and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. For a blueprint in blue-collar outreach, review Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s race in Washington’s third Congressional district.

All of those campaigns successfully energized the Democratic base and employed the politics of persuasion.

For a lesson in taking the culture wars head on, you can start with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker—the anti-DeSantis— who knows how to go on offense. For a primer in outperforming expected Democratic numbers in a red state, look no further than Tim Ryan’s Senate campaign in Ohio.

Looking ahead to 2024, winning back U.S. House seats like Wisconsin’s third and Iowa’s first, second, and third districts would be good places to start, along with defeating the sixteen Republicans representing Congressional districts Joe Biden carried. That’s 20 solid House targets for the next cycle, which will be critical, given the tough Senate map facing Democrats in 2024. 

The all-of-the-above strategy may be even more important for the 2024 presidential race. The path to 270 electoral votes runs through plenty of suburbs and cities, but also through critical working-class and rural regions of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. 

The 2021 “Factory Town” study, commissioned by American Family Voices and 21st Century Democrats, reveals that Democratic losses in mid-sized manufacturing counties outweigh gains for the party in the cities and suburbs—an ominous trend for Democrats, if allowed to continue. These small and mid-sized “factory town” counties represent 45.9 percent of all voters in the ten Midwestern states reviewed.  

First, Democrats should go on offense with a economic opportunity message centered on a new “Made in America” economic patriotism. During his State of the Union address, President Biden pounded the message of Buy American as part of his Blue-Collar Blueprint for America, providing Democrats with an effective policy message roadmap.

Second, if Democrats are a big-tent, diverse party, well, they need to embrace geographic diversity. Political perspectives are influenced by a sense of place. Democrats need to convince voters in “flyover country” that we’re on their side, not just parachuting in every two years before an election, but all the time. New groups, like Joe Kennedy’s Groundwork Project, are working year-round to reach progressive voters in forgotten areas.

Third, Democrats need to go on offense when attacked as unpatriotic. Democrats in the heartland are hard-working parents, nurses, teachers, waitresses, auto mechanics, Little League coaches, community volunteers. We take a back seat to no one in our patriotism and love for family and country. 

Fourth, Democrats are the party of freedom, especially the right to make reproductive health care choices. With this battle heading to state legislatures, “Roe, Roe, Roe your vote” rolls right into 2024.   

Finally, Democrats need to show up to listen and learn. As former Montana Governor Steve Bullock wrote in a December 2021 guest column for the New York Times, “Democrats need to get off the polling and consultant calls, get into the community and engage voters directly […] .”

Democrats are in a position to strengthen the Midwestern blue wall if they’re willing to pursue an all-of-the-above strategy.

Top image: Porter McNeil with then-Senator Barack Obama in Rock Island, Illinois, 2007. Photo by Mary McNeil, published with permission.

About the Author(s)

Porter McNeil

  • Key to Iowa … rural, rural, rural

    As said elsewhere I was sure Christina Bohannan could oust Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa First Congressional. I watched the votes come in and the plus margin in Johnson made me think any deficits in the rural counties would be offset. Wrong. The margins in every rural county were about 2-1 R. Why? Maybe the Reynolds coattails? Maybe wrong message? Bohannan Is an environmental engineer and a law professor. Pretty 21st century. The voters in the SE corner probably don’t worry about being “fly over” as much as being “drive by.” I watched a Henry County House race where a popular young man with a big outreach in Mt. Pleasant lost to the rock-rib Shipley. I note that Reynolds characterized her political enemies as extremists who think “patriotism” is racist, pornographic library books are education. (USA…USA…USA), that the content of our character is less important than the color of our skin, and that children should be encouraged to pick their own gender. The rightwing soaks this up, and heads to the polls and bring their church friends. The picture of Obama is a great reminder. Getting great candidates is a big key. But we had great candidates in all 4 congressional districts. Support Rita Hart. Fill IDP’s bank account. .