“People are very interested in hot topics,” he said in an interview with POLITICO Magazine. “Right now, one party is spending most of its time talking about an ‘invasion’ on the southern border.”
Wyoming Democrats face an uphill road to gaining support in a state that Donald Trump won with more than 70% of the vote in 2020. But recently, Haas said the difficulty in attracting support for Democrats goes beyond the difficult domestic climate and the state’s conservative leanings.
Rather, the biggest challenge to organizing on the ground is America’s increasingly toxic political culture.
The following has been edited from two conversations for length and clarity.
From your perspective as an organizer in Wyoming, why do you think the Democratic Party is having a hard time competing in rural areas?
What I have experienced traveling around the state is the palpable fear of even letting a friend know that you are a Democrat or that you are aligned with what Democratic politicians are doing. is. There is vandalism going on here and people are afraid of it. It’s one thing to have your yard sign stolen or your flag taken down, but it’s another thing to have your car locked away or trash left in your yard. I know people who were harassed and then had people harass them after they found out they were Democrats. People listen to those stories. It’s not fake. They are not making things up. I have seen and heard some really ugly words.
As a group, we are stigmatized. There are also vocal elements within other political parties who invent lies and say things about the Democratic Party to demonize us. Some Democrats demonize other political parties. All that tension leaves a bad aftertaste in other people’s mouths. Most of us in Wyoming are reasonable people who love our state and our communities, but we have no interest in simply headbutting or inciting hostile hatred. No one likes this dehumanizing, angry communication style.
Why do these conditions make it difficult to organize?
Well, I associate it with fear. People are afraid of being found out as Democrats. It becomes difficult to have friendly conversations even with friends and family.
Do you have any strategies for organizing under these difficult circumstances?
Results vary! The most successful way for me to overcome that fear is to come together and do things together. Many rural Democrats feel like they’re in the closet, isolated on their own. We feel that people will hate us. If people feel like they can join this group, and joining the group gives them some degree of protection, that can be attractive to people who feel they don’t have a voice. . You can also give shields to people when you join a party. Helping rural Democrats know they are not alone is satisfying and central to my work.
What about the candidates themselves? What are some of the challenges facing Democratic candidates running in such a rural Republican state?
In rural areas, when candidates go on the campaign trail, they are first told that they need to distance themselves from the KMT. I don’t think I need to do that now, but I feel like I have to. They say, “I’m not a Democrat like Democrats all over the country.” Too much news is nationalized and sensationalized. I think if you want to talk to people about local issues, that’s where you should focus. It’s okay to steer the conversation back to local issues. Local authorities in Wyoming have no intention of solving the Texas border crisis. Emotions run high on these high-profile issues, but when it comes down to it, the community does not unite along partisan lines. We come together to do what’s best for our community.
Wyoming last had a Democratic governor in 2011, and he was a conservative Democrat. Now, it’s not even close to that, and the Democratic governor will have no choice. Why did this happen?
Well, there’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.
Global markets are changing, and for better or worse, many people feel their livelihoods are under threat. And I think it’s easier to blame one group than to say, “Oh, it’s the market that decides that.” Especially if you’re a free market advocate who always says let the market decide.
More and more people are really worried about what will happen to their family ranches or whether they will lose their jobs. And I think when people are that scared, we humans tend to try to blame someone else. And there are a lot of toxic elements in our culture that are reinforced and a lot of harmful ways of thinking about other people. … You know, “This person who doesn’t look like me or the people I grew up with is going to take my job or my kids’ jobs or just cheat on me or give me everything for free.” Either you get it.”
Are there specific issues in Wyoming that really motivate people to come out and organize and join their local Democratic Party?
What is important to Democrats is that public education be adequately funded, that people be treated equally, and that all people have freedom. It’s also very important to many people in Wyoming, whether they’re Democrats or not, that women have the right to control their own bodies and their health care, and that that agency should not be taken away from them. Climate is important to many people, but not necessarily in terms of climate change, but in terms of clean air and clean water.
Mr. Biden and members of his Cabinet have been traveling in recent days to highlight the investments his administration has made in rural America. Do you think the appearance of Democratic officials in local areas will make a difference?
I absolutely think that having them show up to explain and celebrate these programs could have immense benefits. Their presence will influence news coverage and help those who feel they are forgotten feel not forgotten. The people responsible for these great activities are too humble to talk about it.
What people see and hear is definitely one-sided. In my community, a new bus barn is being built at the senior center. It has a sign that says “Projects Funded by President Joe Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Act,” and has a Wyoming Department of Transportation logo and a U.S. Department of Transportation logo.
I called the senior center to ask about it, and the interesting thing is, when I said I noticed the signs, I almost felt anxious. It was as if the person was thinking, “Wouldn’t I be criticized if I put up a sign that said Joe Biden?” There is a guarded fear. This is the only sign I’ve seen on state projects that shows exactly where the funding is coming from.
Is there anything the party across the state is doing to tie the federal money coming into these rural areas with the Democratic Party?
We have worked hard on social media, online, and by email to spread the word that this is happening because of the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the administration and Democrats. So, we are trying, yes.
But are these efforts actually having an impact on how people view the project?
People are very interested in hot topics. Currently, one side spends most of its time talking about an “invasion” on the southern border. A lot of energy is spent talking about it. That’s the biggest topic. It distracts people from the good things that are happening, the success of the economy and the good things that are happening in Wyoming and across the country. The Republican strategy, as I see it, seems to be, “If we can scare people, they’ll vote for us.”
Is it because of the influence of cable news and social media that we have so many conversations about national rather than local issues?
Certainly, I think the effect is enormous. I think the algorithms out there have a huge impact on what people see and what you perceive. We consume very little news in general.
National politics is very tribal, and culture wars are happening everywhere. Is there too much of a gap between where national Democratic voters are and where many Wyoming residents are?
I don’t think the culture war divide is as big as some people would like to believe. These massive divisions are happening in places of power, not here on Main Street, not in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, culture wars are exploited. But as voters, I think we’re smarter than that.