Dorgan: Democrats can fix their blues in red states by talking to more Americans
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Let’s come to terms with it!  We Democrats lost. Sure, we got more votes. But the 2016 election was about the Electoral College vote. And we lost.

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Moreover, we lost to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS US raises concerns about Iran's seriousness in nuclear talks MORE. Try explaining that to your kids!

 

And, I know, we can try to blame it on a lot of things.  Russian hacking (yes, it happened)! FBI Director James Comey (bone-headed interference)! Uneven news coverage, or a hundred other things. But we still lost.

We Democrats watched our television screens fill up with a bright red color on election night as state after state in the heartland voted for Republicans. We can’t be a successful party if we allow that to keep happening.

Unfortunately, the national Democratic party isn’t really behaving much like a “national” party anymore. It hasn’t been running a 50-state campaign for President. Our Presidential candidates have a habit of giving up on many states before the campaign even begins. And other states are often taken for granted (i.e. Wisconsin). 

We are a national political party, so let’s act like one and run a national campaign.  We need to compete everywhere, even in red states. You build a political party from the grassroots up in states where you’ve been losing.

You can’t win if you don’t show up!

We’ve all heard the phrase, “The world is run by those who show up.” That’s true in spades in politics. You really do have to show up.

Democratic victories in Massachusetts, New York and California are impressive, but it’s not enough.

Losing big in so-called red states (Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report Pence autobiography coming from Simon & Schuster Amanda Gorman makes the cover of Vogue MORE received 27% of the vote my home state of North Dakota) is a disaster for state and local Democrats who are running for office. When our presidential candidates fail to run campaign in those states, it stacks the deck against the state and local democratic candidates. And those are the races that have historically been the breeding ground for future leaders of our party.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, about 30 percent of the current Democratic Members of Congress come from just two states: New York and California. That describes how much the Democratic Party has come to rely on the large coastal states while giving up on so many red states.

I understand, as one wise old consultant put it, “In politics you pick cherries where cherries is!” But if you are going to succeed you also need to be out there planting some new cherry trees. That means showing up and competing even in so–called red states.

And don’t listen to those who claim it is a waste of time. I won eleven statewide elections for the Statehouse, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate from a red state.  Many others have done the same. But, you have to meet the voters and wage an aggressive campaign on issues that people care about.

The last time the Democratic National Committee ran a 50-state campaign was when Howard Dean was DNC chairman. The next chairman should pledge to do the same.

When you show up, bring a message that matters. 

Successful campaigns are first about “persuasion” and then about getting out the vote. If you don’t succeed on the persuasion part, getting out a vote that you haven’t yet convinced is not very productive.

Our party has to have a message that matters to the things people are most concerned about in their daily lives. Do I have a good job that pays well? Do I have job security? Do my elderly parents have access to decent health care? Are my kids going to good schools? Are we living in a safe neighborhood? Voters want to hear how candidates plan to work on those issues.

The truth is, in the 2016 campaign President-elect Trump connected with many working people when he talked about the lost jobs from unfair trade agreements that have greased the skids to move American jobs overseas.  A few years ago, I wrote a book about that subject titled “Take This Job and Ship It”! The problem is big and real. Those American workers who lose their jobs, lose their pensions and are told they can’t compete with fifty-cents-an-hour wages overseas are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. China is a good example of the problem. In the last 15 years, we have had a $3.5 trillion trade deficit with China. That translates to massive numbers of lost jobs in the U.S. American workers understand that is a trade relationship that is way out of balance.

They also know that American workers waged a long hard battle for decent wages, safe workplaces, job security, and better retirement benefits. And in the last three decades, many of those gains have been wiped out.

The message from Democrats should be that we are for trade, and plenty of it. But we stand with and fight for American workers insisting - demanding - that our trade agreements be mutually beneficial and fair to American workers.

Speaking of messages, I was disgusted by much of the Trump campaign.  But the fact is many American workers, including some in organized labor, responded to Trump’s message that he was going to raise some hell and break some glass over this jobs issue and I think it made a difference in the election.  Time will tell whether that was real or just a clever performance.

I like Clinton. I worked with her in the U.S. Senate, I voted for her and I think she would have been a great president. But the Republicans’ loud, relentless attack on the email scandal kept her campaign off balance, and she never found a way to drive home her own economic message of change. I regret that she lost. But the task now is to organize for the next election and get a different result.

I am proud of our political party, what we stand for and what we fight for. Our work over many decades have made America a better country. And we have so much more to give. But to win, we need to compete hard everywhere in future political campaigns.

If we do that, the voters will do their part!

Byron Dorgan was a Democratic U.S. senator from North Dakota from 1992-2011 and is a senior advisor at Arent Fox LLP.


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