Administration officials such as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are now fanning out to rural areas to explain the benefits. Local Democrats are campaigning in districts like this corner of southwest Wisconsin along the Mississippi River that once swung for Barack Obama and has been trending redder and redder ever since.
But as local voters — who are overwhelmingly white, blue-collar workers — increasingly disagree with Democrats on cultural issues, GOP arguments against government spending are resonating, making it difficult for the White House’s messaging to stick.
“Money for roads, broadband, that’s a big deal,” said Gary Weber, a dairy farmer who voted for Biden. “But people around here think it’s a bunch of wasteful welfare. They’ve got to convince people this is for the average person and not big companies.”
Gary Weber, a dairy farmer outside Rockland, Wis., voted for Joe Biden in 2020. | Kris Litscher Lee
White House officials, who as recently as this summer argued Biden could “go anywhere” and engage voters, even in rural communities, privately acknowledge his policies have yet to move the needle with rural voters as Republicans hammer the administration over rising inflation.
“He’s got a big job on his hands because people hate him for no reason,” Weber said of Biden.
Biden narrowly won Wisconsin in 2020. While he performed slightly better than Hillary Clinton did with rural voters in 2016, Biden lost almost every rural county in the state. Democrats can’t afford to fall further behind in rural areas like these, where small margins could determine critical races across the country next year — including Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District and the Senate race.
Millions in federal aid from Democrats’ pandemic relief law have already reached small communities in southwest Wisconsin. The money has helped local governments keep schools open and respond to Covid-19. Nearly $30 million is helping to keep rural health care facilities running.
And families with two children under the age of 17, for instance, have likely received federal stimulus checks and monthly child tax credit payments this year totaling around $12,000.
The White House criticized efforts to detract from those gains.
The latest climate and social spending bill, which aims to extend the child tax credit, “is an economic growth plan that will cut the biggest costs rural families face,” said White House deputy press secretary Chris Meagher. “By opposing [the plans], the GOP is voting to raise families’ biggest costs, hike taxes on the middle class, and worsen inflation — all to protect tax breaks for the wealthy.”
Democrats in Congress, who fought for the funding and argue it’s helping families address rising costs, acknowledge that many people don’t know it’s something Democrats championed.
“No one really connects it, even though they’re getting the checks,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said in an interview. As in Wisconsin, Brown’s state has pockets of small communities that once voted Democratic but have since turned deep red.
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