When Elad Gross was running for attorney general, he took a different approach from many Democrats.
Gross wanted to reach voters statewide, not just in the largely Democratic urban areas.
To meet that goal, he traveled 1.7 times the equatorial length of the world in the state of Missouri alone.
His efforts represent a small but growing trend in which politicians are beginning to bridge the urban-rural divide.
A Jan. 18, 2020, article from The Hill, an independent political news site, reported that Democrats were trying to attract new rural voters by venturing into parts of the country they ignored in the 2016 election.
“When you spend time with somebody, connect with them and actually show that you care, folks are more likely to care about voting or getting involved in one way or another,” said Gross, who lost his bid in the primary election.
Missouri is one of the most Republican states in the nation. Democrats are in the super-minority, with only 49 of 163 members in the House of Representatives. The Senate has 10 Democrats and 24 Republicans.
The last election illustrates the urban-rural divide in Missouri even more sharply.
In 2020, Joe Biden received 41.4% of the vote in Missouri, but he won only in the city of St. Louis and the three counties surrounding St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia.
Donald Trump won 111 of the state’s 114 counties. Of those counties, 62% have a population of fewer than 25,000 people. Only 13 counties have a population of 100,000 or more.
The urban-rural divide and the divide between two parties seems to be a complicated issue with no clear solution.
For Democrats to win more voters, Missouri politicians say candidates must communicate honestly, pay attention to rural values around faith and family and personally connect with outlying communities.
Voter inertia also contributes to deadlock, as explained by Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis.
“What happens over time is when Republicans start to win in certain areas, for whatever reason or issue, Democrats feel like they can’t win there anymore,” Schupp said.
It is also time-consuming and costly to take a campaign around Missouri, she said. It takes a great deal of time, effort and money to get a message out across the state.
In addition, politicians tend to avoid areas where their ideas aren’t favored, which contributes to the urban-rural divide.
Voters who live in rural areas say they find it difficult to even have conversations with those on the opposite side, illustrating how deep the political divide can be.
Jeremy Neely is a history professor at Missouri State University in Springfield. He lives in Lockwood, a small town in southwest Missouri where he doesn’t always express viewpoints contrary to the more popular conservative views.
“I am reluctant to speak up because I know that I’m going to disagree with people,” Neely said. “I’m not very confrontational by nature.”
Claire Grissum is president of the Mizzou College Republicans in Columbia, where she also finds herself at odds with prevailing liberal opinions.
“(Mizzou College Republicans) definitely feel like they have to kind of watch what they say, for fear of retaliation from peers, from teachers, from coworkers,” she said.
Voters such as Grissum and Neely say they aren’t comfortable sharing their beliefs in areas where they are outnumbered.
“I think (division) happens when each side talks past the other rather than talking to one another,” Neely said.
Neely believes a difference in political views is healthy and shouldn’t be suppressed.
“Maintaining social ties between groups of people who differ politically is valuable,” he said.
Kara Fisher, a freshman political science major at Columbia College, believes former President Trump increased the level of toxicity between the parties and might have increased the divide.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had an election that’s been so tense and just very, very angry,” Fisher said.
Everyone needs to do a better job at sharing opinions rather than shutting out opposite points of view.
“A lot of people are talking, but nobody’s really listening,” she said.