Republicans have so little to offer communities like Manchester, Ohio, that one state senator’s response to a frustrated constituent was: “You need to move.”
One of the cleanest points on the Ohio River is in Adams County, in Southern Ohio, where the river passes by a small town called Manchester.
Its old Main Street sits just a block from the river, 50 miles east of Cincinnati. About an hour’s drive, and a slightly longer boat trip.
Now look at that Main Street, where I stopped recently.
Almost every building sits empty. Vacant storefronts. Broken glass. Few people in sight in the middle of the day.
What’s happening here, and in towns like Manchester across Ohio and other states?
Not nearly enough.
From Donald Trump to Gov. Mike DeWine to Rep. Brad Wenstrup, to the state lawmakers who cycle through every few years, Manchester has GOP representation up and down the ballot.
And what are these elected representatives doing for the town that loyally votes for them?
They’re pushing for tax cuts for those at the top, yet have failed to push for meaningful infrastructure, including broadband. They attack the Affordable Care Act and broad access to health care as the opioid crisis rages. They’ve cut public school funding. They oppose efforts to bring green jobs to Ohio.
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And for a decade, Ohio’s GOP (including those who represent Manchester at the statehouse) has slashed local funds supporting towns like Manchester to help support tax cuts for those at the top.
These policies are not just not helping—they’re making things much harder.
Republicans have so little to offer communities like Manchester that one state senator’s response to a frustrated constituent was: “You need to move.” State Sen. Joe Uecker later confirmed this exchange: “Sometimes you have to do what’s best for your family.”
Sadly, Manchester is the story of too many small towns across the nation, withering on the vine. Too few jobs. Poor health. The opioid crisis. Poverty. Blight and abandonment. Young people leaving.
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Manchester, home to nearly 2,000 people, is actually unique in that its largest employer only shut down a few years ago. And a few fortunate towns still have universities or some other unique asset or legacy employer that keeps them going. But far too many lost their largest employer decades ago, never to be replaced. And now, they lack the tools or assets required to compete in this very competitive and cutthroat 21st century economy.
Ironically, Manchester and other towns need the same agenda as larger, urban communities like Cincinnati to survive and thrive. They need access to health care, major infrastructure investment, 21st century jobs (yes, green ones), higher wages, modern job training, and good public education. They need policies that help small businesses and rein in monopolies. They need good government; and so on.
In other words, the priorities Democrats talk about nationally are the very things these withering small towns also need so desperately.
Yet , Democrats came up woefully short in the 2020 election in communities just like Manchester all over. Too often, we talk politics when we need to talk policy.
AOC and Beto and Doug Jones are right: We need more ongoing engagement. More permanent infrastructure in state parties and other organizations. Improved digital capacity. And we must support efforts like those of Stacey Abrams everywhere—engaging overlooked voters, particularly Black and brown voters.
But we also now have the presidency. And both chambers of Congress. Which means that it’s also time to implement policy—not just politics. In some cases, policy will be the most powerful tool we have.
Think of it this way. Obama wasn’t simply re-elected in Ohio because of tactics and organizing and speeches. He was re-elected in Ohio because he saved the auto industry. And Ohioans knew it.
Likewise, Biden policy decisions in the coming years are as important for Democrats’ political fate as the politics. And it’s a full agenda: health care, good jobs and wages, climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, combating systemic racism, lifting our big cities, infrastructure, education, voting rights, strong unions, student debt, gun safety, and others.
But amid this agenda, I’d suggest one more: roll out a policy agenda for Manchester and towns like it across America. And make it clear that when we add infrastructure, job training, and health care, it’s for those small towns too.
In two years, let’s be able to point to an improved Main Street in Manchester and be able to say: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Democrats did that. Want more? Vote for more Democrats.”
Give our candidates something to tout as opposed to simply playing defense against misinformation, division, and extremism. In the same way that in 2012, the best defense to any attack on Obama in Ohio was: he saved the auto industry.
We need to show how, concretely, it makes a difference when Democrats win. Our most loyal supporters already know. Now it’s time to show the places in our country, like Manchester, that desperately need the Democratic agenda—even if many there don’t know it yet.