Washington Democrats are "disconnected" from rural America, freshman Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin, an Oklahoma rancher, said bluntly.
The left has long been accused of being out of touch with people living between the east and west coasts. It’s been reflected in shifting voting patterns that show swaths of the country where working-class, rural and predominantly white communities are turning redder in the broad trends of U.S. elections.
In areas where ballots used to be split between the parties, with more emphasis placed on the candidate, voters have largely shunned Democrats in favor of voting consistently Republican.
It’s partly why pundits have said Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester could be facing his toughest re-election bid yet in 2024.
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"Historically, Jon Tester has been able to make it about: Do you want Jon Tester or the person he's running against? And everybody has tried to make it: Do you want to vote for a Republican or a Democrat? If it's Republican or Democrat, Jon Tester loses," Lee Banville, a journalism professor and political analyst at the University of Montana told Fox News Digital.
"If it's John Tester versus Ryan Zinke, Matt Rosendale, Candidate X, then, you know … there's still a coalition out there that he can use to win."
Tester, a third-generation Montana farmer who billed himself as "the only working farmer in the Senate" on Twitter this week, won his 2018 re-election bid by less than five points despite Donald Trump making him one of his main political targets that cycle. Even today, he’s expected to be Democrats’ best chance of keeping that Senate seat.
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Mullin called out Tester’s Twitter post Tuesday night, writing, "Hate to break it to you…You’ve got new blood in the Senate. Sixth generation Oklahoma farmer and rancher here."
And while he did not mention the Montana Democratic senator by name, Mullin told Fox News Digital the Democratic Party just did not resonate with rural, farming communities’ values.
"Rural Americans want the heavy hand of the federal government out of the way," Mullin said.
"Republicans understand that farmers and ranchers are some of the hardest-working people in America. That’s why we’re fighting to lower costs and eliminate the red tape that is crushing our agricultural sector. It’s a fact that liberal urban areas on the east and west coast could not function without rural communities working tirelessly every day to feed, fuel and clothe … communities.
"The last thing rural Americans want are out-of-touch career politicians who have no real-world experience, telling us how to farm our land or operate our businesses."
Mullin is one of two farmers within the Senate GOP. Sen. Chuck Grassley spent much of his life as a family farmer, and social media posts indicate his adult children have since taken over much of the operations.
Both Oklahoma and Montana are rural, traditionally red states that had Democrats as their governors in the last 20 years.
But political analyst Banville said Montana was "not on par with national trends" that have seen voters in mostly rural states run toward the GOP.
"If that were true, Tester would be the former senator, because when President Trump made defeating him such a priority, it should have been over. And yet, he won by, actually, the largest margin he's ever won by," Banville said.
He credited Tester for being "diligent and effective" in his work on veterans’ affairs and agricultural issues and showing his constituents, "I’m actually a Montanan, and I’m gonna have your back."
But Banville conceded the political climate was changing there, too.
"I would say the statewide Democrats … have found it harder and harder to make the case that they are different than the national Democrats," Banville said. He believes the margin in that race will be "razor thin."
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report indicates a similar outlook, with Tester’s seat rated "Leans D."
Mullin explained that, in his experience with rural farmers in his own state, Democratic policies are making it hard for them to make a living.
"High fuel costs are at the top of mind for many farmers right now. … Under this administration, fertilizer is up 84%, and fuel is up 65%. Not to mention, I can’t run our tractors or semis on electricity. If I could, it would cost two to three more times more to buy that product.
"Rural Americans are directly responsible for feeding hundreds of millions of families and keeping the lights on, and this is the treatment they get from Democrats in Washington. It’s ridiculous."