Rural Georgia Democrats React To How Candidates Addressed Their Concerns During Debate
Before Wednesday's Democratic president debate in Atlanta, GPB's Rickey Bevington spoke with a political consultant from Grady County in South Georgia about what rural Democrats wanted to hear from the candidates.
Pete Fuller heard our interview and shared his persepctive. Fuller is the chair of the Jackson County Democrats and the Rural Caucus Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Bevington checked in with him after the debate to get this reaction to how the candidates addressed rural issues.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Rickey Bevington: You and I are talking less than 24 hours after the Democratic debate in Atlanta. Did you hear issues discussed that matter to rural Democrats?
Pete Fuller: Yeah, there are a lot of issues. When you talk about health care, that was a major focus of basically all of the debates, and this one in particular as well. Rural health care is a crisis in a lot of parts of the state. You've got hospitals closing. There are plans proposed to help alleviate that, to help get funding going into expanding Medicaid or full out Medicare-For-All [which would] get funding in rural hospitals and keep them open where they're closing right now. That's a crisis.
We had discussions about the trade war and how that's really impacted agricultural areas of the state. You've got a leadership at the federal level that went into a trade war with no plan. Now you've got rural agriculture that's really hurting. You've got bankruptcies at a time when Wall Street is doing great. You've got an administration was telling farmers to suck it up and get a second job. That's just not acceptable.
Bevington: Were you concerned that none of the candidates while in Atlanta this week are holding events outside of the city core?
Fuller: They'll be back. Right now, where Georgia sits on the primary schedule, all the candidates are really focused more on the early primary states.
So they were in for this debate, and I was glad to have them here for that. I believe that they will be back and be traveling with them more.
Bevington: Pete, you sent me an e-mail that says Democrats in rural Georgia are a much more politically diverse group than the Democrats of years past. What did you mean by that?
Fuller: I mean, the Democrat Party, especially, has been changing in Georgia in the last 20 years. For too long, we've been running conservative Democrats.
We've been trying to appeal to a voter base that's gone to the Republicans, and to the point that we've been ignoring the base that is in these counties, especially in our small rural counties where we've got people of color.
We've got people that are progressive in a lot of ways that have just been ignored because we keep running people that are conservative-lite instead of embracing who the Democratic Party in a lot of cases. We are a progressive party in this state that at one time embraced progressive ideals.
Bevington: So are you saying that rural Democrats in in deeply conservative counties particularly, have not necessarily always voted Democratic?
Fuller: I think they've just been ignored in a lot of cases. We've been really focused on trying to get back people that left the party 20 years ago. In that case, we're not talking to people that don't see a clear difference between our candidates a lot of the time. I think we need to be showing a clear difference with our candidates in talking to constituencies that don't get talked to a lot.
I think Kamala Harris actually made a good point last night that we tend to ignore the backbone of the party like black women and black men. We show up at times when it's an election season, but we don't show up any other time to those constituencies.
If we're not showing a clear difference and a clear reason to vote Democrat, those people either aren't going vote for us or just aren't going to vote at all.
Bevington: What do you want to see in the next Democratic debate in December?
Fuller: I would like to see more discussion about the environment. It got some discussion last night, but still, there's not enough talk about how healing the environment really doesn't have to be a job killing thing and how environmental concerns like dumping and waste can cause major issues in rural areas.