By Megan Strickland
Nearly a month ago, a Democratic contender with about a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning Texas’s First Congressional District came and sat down in my newspaper office. Texas’s First District consists of some largely rural, Evangelical Christians, with backgrounds in farming, ranching, oil, gas and timber. Some of its counties are among the poorest in the state.
The candidate, instead of talking himself up, had some poignant questions about the strange juxtaposition between Donald Trump and the Republicans stronghold over poor, rural American counties, despite having little in common with their purported values.
How, he asked, could 90 percent of this overwhelmingly conservative county, vote for a candidate whose third wife had posed naked on the cover of a magazine in an erotic position with another woman? Was Trump really the best candidate for family values?
How could those same voters, in a county where more than 60 percent of the children are enrolled in Medicaid, vote for someone like Trump who would cut services? How could they not complain when Trump cut the budget of the U.S. Forest Service, which also is a major funding mechanism for local schools?
My colleague and I didn’t have any answers.
The phenomenon doesn’t appear to be just in rural Texas. Trump’s stronghold over the heartland of America is baffling, as his attempts at trimming government fat and draining the swamps target programs that benefit a key demographic that helped put him in office.
However, Trump’s popularity among rural individuals seems to be falling.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in October of 15,000 rural individuals found that 47 percent of rural Americans approved of Trump, and 47 percent disapproved. That’s down from a 55-39 split four weeks after Trump was elected. It creates a curious conundrum coming into midterm elections.
For Texas’s First, it looks to be a David vs. Goliath battle with Republican incumbent Louie Gohmert’s war chest of more than $300,000 greatly outweighing the four-figure sums his opponents have amassed. But the candidate’s questions still are valid: how long will rural America keep voting for a billionaire they have little in common with? The upcoming midterms will tell.
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