I have lived the vast majority of my life in politically "red" territory. Even when I lived in blue states like Illinois and Michigan, I was in more conservative parts of those states. There is a special challenge to being on the left in places like central Nebraska and east Texas, since the entire prevailing opinion is against you. Even the apolitical default to being Republican, only some kind of weirdo would out themselves as a liberal unless they were truly committed.
As the political lines have hardened over the past twenty-five years or so, being blue in a red state has gotten that much harder. You get used to losing, and little disheartened. However, it is in the presidential primaries where you can actually have a fun election. Not having to run against a Republican means a vote that might actually count, and that the candidate you vote for might actually win.
The biggest misperception of these voters is that they are more conservative than Democrats in other parts of the country. This must've passed through Bernie Sanders' mind as he tried to pass off his losses in the South as a reflection of the more conservative nature of voters there. More conservative overall, of course, but not when it comes to Democrats.
Twenty-five years ago he might have had a point. Conservative Democrats and blue dog Democrats in the South still existed. In my youth my home state of Nebraska regularly elected Democrats to statewide office, including Jim Exon, Ben Nelson and Bob Kerry to both the governorship and Senate, despite the fact that the Cornhusker state hasn't voted for a Democrat in the presidential election since LBJ in 1964. As the parties became more ideologically coherent, the Republicans turned many conservative places into what amount to one party states. The Democrats who remain in those places, like the deep South and Great Plains, are there because they really believe in progressive principles.
They are holding fast to those principles against long odds. As a former resident of Texas I found Wendy Davis' filibuster so exciting because someone was standing up to the onslaught of radical conservatism there. About 40% of that state's population has been left without a political voice in the realignment of the past few decades. Living in that kind of political climate is oppressive and hard to put up with.
The Democrats in places like Mississippi, Texas, and Nebraska thus deserve respect from their fellows. After all, they are the ones who helped put Barack Obama over the top in 2008 as the more progressive option to Hilary Clinton. Don't believe me? Then check this out:
Democrats in these places love the primaries because it's really their one chance to have their voice heard. With that in mind, progressives in other parts of the country need to give their support to them, not their indifference or scorn.