What much of the party establishment does not understand is that life in the countryside is rooted in common values of independence, common sense, tradition, thrift, community and hard work. Democratic campaigns often seem to revolve around white papers and skewed politics. It is our experience that politicians lose the rural population when they abandon politically triangulated lines and talk about the whims of politics. People in the countryside vote on what is true and personal for them: Can one trust this person? Is he authentic?
Will the Democrats face a midterm annihilation?
While these defeats should prompt genuine soul-searching in the party, some political scientists and many mainstream Democrats have taken them as proof not that their own strategies need to be changed, but rather that the Republicans in the country are too ignorant to vote in their own interest. It is a counterproductive, condescending story that only serves to drive the wedge between Democrats and rural areas even deeper.
Chloe has knocked on more than 20,000 doors over the last two cycles, listening to stories of loss and isolation. A man told her she was the first to listen to him; most campaigns, he said, did not even bother to knock on his door – they judged him for what his house looked like. Another voter said she had been undecided between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump until election day, but ultimately voted for Mr. Trump, because she said, at the Republican convention, he was talking about ordinary American workers, and Mrs. Clinton did not do that to her. own convention.
Something needs to change. Democrats need a deeply different strategy if they are to restore their reputation as advocates for working people, committed to improving their lives, undisturbed by wealth and power. In our view, the only way for Democrats to regain traction in rural areas is by running strong campaigns in districts that normally support Republicans. This change starts with having face-to-face conversations to rebuild trust and faith not only in the Democrats but also in the democratic process. Even though it is hard work without a guaranteed result, it is necessary – even if we do not win.
In our two campaigns, we turned down the party consultants and created our own collection universe – the targeted list of voters we talk to during election season. In 2020, this was the universe four times greater than what the State Party recommended. It included thousands of Republicans and independents who (literally) had never been contacted by a Democratic campaign throughout their vote.
Our campaign sign? Hand-painted or made from eradicated wooden pallets by volunteers, with pictures of loons, canoes and other features of the Maine landscape. In the trash went consultant-created emails. Instead, we designed and implemented our own direct mail program for half the price of what the party consultants would charge, while reaching 20 percent more voters.
Volunteers wrote more than 5,000 personal postcards, handwritten and addressed to neighbors in their own community. And we defied traditional advice by refusing to say a negative word about our opponents, no matter how much we wanted to fight back, as the campaigns got more heated.