A Democrat Nominee Flipping the Script

How Rules Fuel Populist Anger in Rural America
July 2, 2022, 11:00 a.m. ET


Abortion and gun rights have both inspired passionate activism and countless front-page news articles. Regulations — not so much. Yet nitpicky government rules remain a potent and underappreciated source of populist anger against Democrats, especially in rural areas.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Harden has gotten an earful from voters about maddening and arbitrary restrictions: Why are wineries in Maryland limited to serving only 13 kinds of food? Why does a woman who sells her grandmother’s cobbler have to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to build a commercial kitchen? Why does a federal inspector have to be on hand to watch wild catfish get gutted — but not other kinds of seafood? The short answer is that restaurant associations tend to wield more political clout than wineries, and catfish farmers in Mississippi are more powerful than seafood harvesters in Maryland. Big businesses can afford to hire lawyers to help them cut through red tape and lobbyists to bend government rules to their will. Small businesses, especially in rural places, get slammed.


Can Democrats flip the script and win over conservative districts, particularly small- business owners in those areas, by speaking out against government red tape? Mr. Harden, a 59-year-old former Foreign Service officer who is running for Congress in Maryland’s First District, is trying. He hopes to replace Andy Harris, the sole Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation. (Mr. Harris voted to overturn the results of the presidential election in 2020 and reportedly once tried to bring a gun onto the House floor.)

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