- The Washington Times
Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Midwestern Democrats want to amplify their voice in Congress after feeling like second-class citizens to their coastal counterparts.

The new Heartland Caucus, led by Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, is talking about the needs for party unity, messaging and paying attention to issues in the Midwest.

The caucus also talks about the need to have more representation within party leadership, which is led only by lawmakers from the East and West coasts.

“During my tenure here, the leadership has largely come from the coasts,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, Ohio Democrat. “You can look at the leadership today versus just a couple years ago, and you can see who’s missing. We’re generally missing this part of the country.”

Midwestern Democrats have long sought more representation in the party, as well as the need to fight the misconception they’re simply in flyover country.

The lawmakers discussed issues related to workforce revitalization, agriculture and revamping the image of middle America and the Rust Belt.

“We are still the area that makes stuff. We are still the area that grows stuff. We’re still the area where the people who know how to make and grow stuff are. Even if they’re not in that specific line of work, this is where they live,” said Rep. Sean Casten of Illinois.

Last year, the Democratic caucus voted to create the position of battleground leader, who would amplify representation for lawmakers who hail from purple districts. The position is held by Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.

While many Midwestern Democrats are considered vulnerable in election years, Ms. Dingell said their push to get a seat at the table is not just about front-liners, or swing-district members, pointing to the ideological diversity of her caucus.

The caucus ranges from Democrats such as Rep. Angie Craig in a Minnesota rural swing district to Rep. Ilhan Omar, also of Minnesota, a member of “the Squad.”

“We are doing this as the Heartland. This has nothing to do with the front-liners. The seats we have lost have been in the Midwest, and we need to keep those seats,” Ms. Dingell said.

Other members said the move to add that position didn’t reconcile the gripes the Midwestern representatives had, given that Mrs. Spanberger is from Virginia.

“The leadership got it half right,” Ms. Kaptur said on Mrs. Spanberger’s appointment. “They need someone from the Heartland. Part of our challenge is we have no one from the leadership in any position from the Heartland, so this is one of the realities that we face over and over and over again.”

Ms. Kaptur, who is the longest-serving woman in the House, added that while the caucus is fighting for Democratic representation, it is not a partisan issue.

“We have very talented people in the Heartland, and they deserve a place on the Democratic side of the aisle and the Republican,” she said.

Ms. Dingell said she‘s had conversations with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar and Whip Katherine Clark about their concerns and will continue to have an open dialogue with them.

Mr. Jeffries is from New York. Mr. Aguilar is from California. Ms. Clark is from Massachusetts. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, is also from California.

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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