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Scoop: Dems plan to teach 2020 candidates how to talk to a Trump voter

Former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly in 2017. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Former Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly, who both lost their 2018 re-election races in North Dakota and Indiana, respectively, are launching the One Country Project to help their party win back rural voters ahead of the 2020 cycle.

Why it matters: Their team looked at rural votes by county and state from 2000 to 2018 and found that if Democrats don't break their performance with rural voters, they're projected to once again win the popular vote but lose the electoral college in 2020.

Details: Their focus is primarily on Democratic Senate races and the presidential election, but they eventually want to work with races up and down the ballot in these rural areas.

  • Heitkamp and Donnelly will work with campaigns before the election, giving them messaging, data, polling, and a strategy to break through with these voters who "didn’t feel that we shared their beliefs" in past elections, Donnelly told Axios in an interview.
  • "Culturally, they’re focused on faith and family and country, and Donald Trump tells them all the time that we’re not, even though we are."

What they're saying: "What we heard on the ground is that the Democratic Party no longer speaks for the entire country," Heitkamp said. "They’ve forgotten the middle of the country and forgot to even show up. Even past Democratic voters didn’t recognize the Democratic Party of 2018."

By the numbers: Their data, shared exclusively with Axios, projects that Democrats' popular vote would increase from +2.1% in 2016 to +3.6% in 2020.

  • But, using a similar margin that Obama won by in 2012, One Country Project estimates Democrats would end up with just 232 electoral college votes in the upcoming presidential cycle. (Hillary Clinton won 227 in 2016.)
  • They also project Democrats would be poised to have a better performance in states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia.
  • Assuming these trends among rural voters continue, the team predicts Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire will become even more competitive in 2020.

One Country has been working with the DNC, but Heitkamp so far isn't pleased with their previous efforts:

"They need to show up. They need to recognize that there are voters in rural America who will again vote for the Democratic Party if they hear ideas and goals that are consistent with what they need to thrive. The Democratic Party needs to be a 50 state party, and not just an urban party."

Yes, but: The DNC has hired Liberty Schneider, who served as Heitkamp's 2018 re-election campaign manager, as its new director of rural outreach and engagement, which has not been previously reported. Her main role will be to engage and mobilize rural voters for the 2020 cycle.

  • "Our party is at its best when we are connecting with people from all across the country, from Boston, MA to Bowbells, ND, and the DNC is committed to a 50-state strategy that helps us win up and down the ballot in 2019, 2020, and beyond," Schneider said in a statement to Axios.
  • "Under the leadership of Chair [Tom] Perez, the national party has made extensive investments to make sure we are connecting with folks in rural communities and talking about our shared values."

Go deeper: Why rural counties are dying in America