Kansas’s state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera, is one of my favorites. The Latin translation “to the stars through difficulty” reflects the history of my home state while also accurately describing the people I know back home. Kansans are not afraid of hard work and fighting adversity to achieve their goals.
National publications keep interviewing Trump voters, trying to understand why they would vote against their own interest and they’re missing the bigger story. This is the story I see brewing in the Heartland: The people who normally are not involved in politics, are now energized. I’ve seen friends (both moderate Republicans and Democrats) form PACs, canvas for the first time, and in many cases, consider running for office.
Maybe after the near-win in the Kansas 4th Congressional District special election last night, they’ll take notice.
Kansans are angry at Sam Brownback’s failed leadership and that anger grew louder when Brownback vetoed Medicaid expansion. Combined with the chaos of the Trump administration policies, some which seem to mimic those in Kansas, I could see the energy building for Democrat and Army veteran James Thompson. I watched friends from all parts of the state make phone calls and drive to Wichita to help canvas. People in Wichita opened their homes to other Kansans wanting to come down to help.
These “grassroots” had to be built from scratch because the state Democratic Party has been virtually nonexistent since Kathleen Sebelius was governor.
There are all kinds of takes on the issue of whether the National Democratic Party should have gotten involved, including from those on the coasts which seem to make a lot of assumptions that do not reflect the energy on the ground. To me, the National Democratic Party continues to make the same mistake it did in the 2016 Presidential Election: It’s weighing projected numbers reviewed in Washington heavier than the feelings of the people in the fight.
Once again, a campaign asked for help and its assessment was ignored. The Republican Party wasn’t ignoring cries for help on the ground. It pulled out all the big guns—robocalls from Trump, Pence and Bob Dole in a SPECIAL ELECTION. The Republican Party in Kansas has a phenomenal “get out the vote” structure which basically amounts to “scare the crap out of Granny, then drive her to the polls.” In a tight race, they’re going to pull it out every time because they know where to find old people who will vote their way.
There are voters in Kansas who would turn out for Democrats if they knew it wasn’t a lost cause.
So understand that when people are talking Democratic involvement, they’re not just talking about running campaign ads. It’s about telling the people energized on the ground that their work matters and is worth it. That you see them and that you are glad they care. That it is a long shot, but Ad Astra Per Aspera!
Through that you invest in creating a structure that will help support candidates in the future. You’re also letting Kansans know there’s an alternative to the leadership they are frustrated with right now. You’re telling them their vote matters and you’re willing to work for it. If Democrats don’t deliver their own message about what they stand for, the Republican Party will do it for them. The Republicans have been doing a successful job of that in Kansas for decades.
It’s also about investing in the next generation of leaders. I honestly think part of the Democrats’ problem with fielding good national candidates is that they’ve given up on parts of the Heartland where you would find people who could speak to a broader U.S. audience.
The Thompson campaign understood all of these dynamics. It would have been nice to have the calvary come help, but they should still be proud of their campaign. It also should be a sign to moderates and Democrats in Kansas that the state is worth fighting for because it is winnable. It is not hopeless or a lost cause. However, it may also reinforce a message that has traveled around some political circles in Kansas for a while now: It is better to run as an Independent because the Democratic Party won’t help you anyway.
Meanwhile, if the Democratic Party truly wants to flip Congress they’re going to have to stop being so risk adverse and fight for every seat. Might I suggest adopting a new motto?
Ad Astra Per Aspera.