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Meet the Democrat who's teaching her party how to win in Trump country

This rural Illinois Democrat is teaching the Party how to speak to rural voters

by Alexandra Jaffe
May 23 2018, 7:00pm

Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos was one of only a dozen Democrats to win re-election in districts Donald Trump won in 2016, and she’s got advice for members of her party hoping to recreate her success: Quit with the identity politics.

“There's a view that we focused on things that aren’t important to [Americans’] everyday lives,” Bustos told VICE News, when asked how Democrats lost voters’ faith in 2016.

“There's been too much siloing going on among the constituencies," she asserts.
"You know, what is good for white working-class people is probably also good for African-American families or Latino families. But we don't have to talk about it in those terms…I don’t think there's a whole lot of difference between what people want for their kids.”

Bustos was elected by her colleagues in Congress last year to deliver them that sort of tough-love advice as chairwoman of Heartland Engagement, a role that has her helping the party figure out how to compete in red-leaning districts like her own in northeastern Illinois.

And during a recent training session for new Democratic candidates running in Republican-leaning areas, she advised them to focus on economic issues whenever possible, as opposed to controversial social issues like gun control and abortion that sometimes bog Democrats down with Republican voters.

"Where you can’t go wrong is talking about people struggling" economically, Bustos says. "You can go wrong by talking about, the first thing when you walk into a room, talking about an issue that is a divisive issue."

This segment originally aired May 16, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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