ICYMI: Christian Science Monitor Profiles Bustos’ Work in the Heartland

WASHINGTON – Today, the Christian Science Monitor profiled Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, Co-Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, for her success in the Heartland and outreach to rural voters.

Highlights from the story are below:

A Democrat shows how to win over Trump voters

PEORIA, ILL. — On a sunny morning in May, Rep. Cheri Bustos showed up to work at a machine shop in south Peoria, where grain silos hug the Illinois River. Protective eye gear on, the Democratic congresswoman was ready for another day of “Cheri on Shift” – shadowing workers on the job when she’s home in her district.

During her “training,” she started up a conversation with the operator of the computer-driven, metal-cutting machine, Jason Williams. It lasted a good 10 minutes. Even before this, she kept breaking off from her shop-floor tour to chat with employees: A young apprentice. A longtimer of 27 years. An Iraq War veteran.

Along the way, she asked more questions than a census-taker. Not just whether they have any kids, but about the kids. Not just how long they have worked here, but what they were doing before this. Not just about their training, but what they do for fun and whether they took a vacation last year.

“We’ve had other politicians come through here before that had no real interest in talking to somebody,” said Kris Woll, a young machinist with a “Bernie” sticker on his toolbox. “She … had a big smile and came up and introduced herself within moments of seeing me. That, to me, meant a lot.”

Showing up. Listening to constituents. Following through. It sounds simple enough. But it is an aspect of politics that is undervalued in an age of social media and in a region of the country that largely abandoned Democrats for Donald Trump. If the party wants to regain the House in 2018, and rise again in the larger sense, it will need to win in the Midwest and gain the trust of Trump voters – as Representative Bustos has done, observers say.

Bustos seems to be having some sway. In December, Democrats in the House elected her co-chair of their policy and messaging committee, making her the only Midwesterner in the House Democratic leadership. It was a corrective step after Democrats’ painful loss of states such as Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin in the presidential race…

“… [M]uch of Illinois’s 17th District is dotted with farms and small towns with conservative voters, and the congresswoman has steadily increased her margin of victory with each election. She won all 14 of her counties last year. “You know that old saying, ‘Half the game is just showing up’ – I think that’s part of it,” says Bustos, when asked how Democrats can regain the trust of people who voted for Trump.

Showing up is not so easy in this district of 7,000 square miles. She makes sure to visit all counties each year and stays close to her constituents by working her “shifts.” She also does “Supermarket Saturdays,” asking mothers and grandparents picking over produce or pulling cereal from the shelf what they want her to know before she heads back to Washington.

Her one-on-one discussions, with everyone from factory workers to grocery store shoppers, help Bustos understand the economy’s effect on people’s lives – for instance, by giving her a sense of how much disposable income someone might have to spend on a vacation. This informs her work in Washington, whether it’s fighting for or against something, or writing legislation.

The problem in 2016, she says, was that Democrats campaigned on a message that “everything was good” and they were going to build on that. “Well, things don’t feel so good to a lot of people.”

Which is why Bustos takes care not to “bad-mouth” the president, as she puts it. But she does point out where he’s failed on his promises, and she condemns his proposed 21 percent budget cut to the Department of Agriculture as harmful to every town in her district.

When touring workplaces, she described the health-care bill that passed the House in early May as “terrible” – but she never talked about it in terms of R’s and D’s.

She’s particularly attuned to veterans. Since she learned from a concerned vet that flags used by the military were made in China, she has succeeded in requiring the Defense Department to purchase only US flags made in America.