Jess King is running a progressive, grassroots campaign in a district where Donald Trump won and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker won 53 percent of the vote in the 2016 election. The mostly rural district is populated with Amish farmers, devout Mennonites, and people who mostly feel they’ve been left behind by national politicians from both parties.
Most political strategists might advise against running a progressive campaign in a decidedly conservative district, especially in rural America where the election map from 2016 is an ocean of red. But King is confident her messages—steeped in the values of her community—will work.
And she’s not the only one.
Rural politicians across the country are buying into a new way of campaigning, with platforms that might sound more aligned with those of college students living in Berkeley, California, than former miners from the central Appalachian coalfields. They’re talking about raising the minimum wage, universal health care, debt-free college and investing in local assets, like natural landscapes and small business development, instead of industrial recruitment.