Democrats have lost rural voters



Sluggish economy? Not around here.

In the windswept northwestern corner of North Dakota, an oil boom has pushed the local economy into overdrive. People are pouring in for jobs, with home builders pulling double shifts.

Fat wallets should bode well for incumbents. But Mr. Wehrman, who supported Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy in 2008, says he wants the lawmaker gone.

"I'm disgusted with the entire party," said Mr. Wehrman, a 58-year-old local who helps oil companies lease property for drilling. He is unhappy about government bailouts and the stimulus, saying, "Who do they think is going to pay for all this?"

His anger against incumbent Democrats echoes across the rural Midwest. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month 55% of Midwesterners disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing, six percentage points higher than the rest of the U.S. And 66% of rural Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, five points more than U.S. voters as a whole.

Democratic House incumbents in several sparsely populated Midwestern districts are fighting those headwinds. Among them: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota; Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill in Indiana; Debbie Halvorson in Illinois; Leonard Boswell in Iowa; John Boccieri in Ohio and Ike Skelton in Missouri.

But nowhere is the drag on the party as conspicuous as in North Dakota. Incumbents here expected more vocal support, given the booming local economy: The state's 3.7% unemployment rate is the lowest in the U.S. and it has a budget surplus nearing $1 billion.

In 2006, Mr. Pomeroy won re-election by 31 points. In 2008, he won by 24 points. This year, he trails his GOP opponent, Rick Berg, by three points, according to a recent Rasmussen poll. Four months ago, nearly half of state voters had not heard of Mr. Berg, a former Republican Speaker of the state House of Representatives. The Pomeroy campaign said its internal polls showed Mr. Pomeroy up by two points.


Mr. Wehrman said the federal government needed to be more like North Dakota—independent, frugal and conservative. "No one ever gave me a bailout," he said.


In Williston, jobs are so plentiful these days that employers engage in bidding wars for workers. Few here go without health insurance, said Mayor E. Ward Koeser.

Fueling the town's wealth is oil from the Bakken Shale deposit, which runs along the western edge of North Dakota. The deposit was discovered in 1951 but wasn't economically feasible to extract until 2006.

In 2009, the boom hit Williston. Help-wanted signs hang everywhere as employers jockey to fill 2,000 jobs in the city of 15,000. Oil-services giant Halliburton Co., now the biggest employer in town, recently trucked down 150 temporary housing units used in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Still, Motels are booked for months in advance and scores of people sleep in cars or in a tent city in a well-groomed park.

There is more.

The anti energy Democrats in the Obama administration are already making war against the energy companies and the fracking process that has made this area rich. The NoDak voters are poised to throw out the Democrats.


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