Democrats are targeting rural voters ahead of the crucial 2024 election
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Democrats are beginning to court voters ahead of the 2024 election. And in some states, like North Carolina, they are focusing on rural voters. Biden lost North Carolina by just under 75,000 votes in 2020. And as NPR's Ximena Bustillo reports, Democrats there still have a lot of work to do to gain a competitive edge.
XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Democrats did something surprising in 2022. They performed better than expected in swing states nationwide during the midterm elections in part thanks to turnout by rural voters, even if Democratic candidates did not always win. For years, left-leaning organizers have tried to reach voters beyond urban areas, but rural voters say they have been left behind.
ANDERSON CLAYTON: Building back trust takes time. And so my big thing is we have to start somewhere, and we need to start now.
BUSTILLO: That's Anderson Clayton. She's North Carolina's Democratic Party chair. She is also 25, making her the youngest party chair in the country.
CLAYTON: Main street is not normally this busy. It's funny today.
BUSTILLO: Walking around her hometown of Roxboro, Clayton said her goal is to focus on young voters and rural communities she believes the party has ignored for far too long. So far, she has been a cheerleader for the Biden administration and connecting rural issues to recent investments in infrastructure.
CLAYTON: It's the first time in 50 years that an administration has invested in a community that looks like where I'm from. And I think that's just kind of beautiful, honestly.
BUSTILLO: There's changing demographics to consider. Recent 2020 census data found rural areas are diversifying.
CLAYTON: And we have a huge population of rural people who we've yet to tap into that are our voters and that we've got to go after this year and chase. And that's exactly what I plan to do.
BUSTILLO: But the GOP is not fully off the hook. Even young Republicans who plan on helping their party keep the wins among rural voters want to see more from candidates on innovation.
CODY MILLER: Where are the Republicans talking about the fact that we need to be going over to nuclear energy? Where are the Republicans that are talking about, we need to be more involved in space?
BUSTILLO: That's Cody Miller. The 19-year-old is the chairman of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans. And when Republicans hear Democrats want to court rural voters, they say, good luck.
MILLER: They're going to experience a lot of backlash in the same way that, you know, Republicans try to go to cities and the cities don't really like it. I think that the rural communities are not going to like that Democrats go and try to do stuff there.
BUSTILLO: North Carolina hasn't gone blue in a presidential election in 15 years. Ximena Bustillo, NPR News, Raleigh, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.