He's worked on the campaigns for both Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D). So he knows how to WIN in red areas, unlike, say, someone like Bob Shrum, who only knows how to LOSE the South in presidential elections (8 of them, in fact). Sirota is not your typical inside-the-Beltway consultant. So when he speaks, it would behoove us to listen.
To that end, one of the most important things he's ever written was a piece called The Democrats' Da Vinci Code back in December 2004. Remember, at that time, we were all still in a state of depression over Kerry's loss to Bush. Our Senate leader, Tom Daschle (SD), had been taken down. We lost several more House seats, and four overall Senate seats. Each party picked up two of the other's governorships. Things were looking very bleak.
And yet despite the national losses for the party, Sirota shows that across the country, there were quite a few Democrats that bucked the national trend, winning races in "red" districts and states. How did they do it? Sirota finds a common theme.
The answers to these and other questions are the Democrats’ very own Da Vinci Code — a road map to political divinity. It is the path Karl Rove fears. He knows his GOP is vulnerable to Democrats who finally follow leaders who have translated a populist economic agenda into powerful cultural and values messages. It also threatens groups like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has pushed the Democratic Party to give up on its working-class roots and embrace big business’ agenda. These New Democrats, backed by huge corporate contributions, say that the party must reduce corporate regulation and embrace a free-trade policy that is wiping out local economies throughout the heartland. They have the nerve to call this agenda “centrist” even though poll after poll shows it is far out of the mainstream. Yet these centrists get slaughtered at the ballot box, and their counterparts — the progressive economic populists — are racking up wins and relegating the DLC argument to the scrap heap.
Progressive economic populism.
That's what gave us victories and brought us people like Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (in a state where Kerry couldn't even get 39% of the vote), and South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth (Kerry did worse here than in Montana). It's what got people like North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and Congressmen David Obey (WI), Bernie Sanders (VT, and a socialist!), Mike Michaud (ME), Ted Strickland (OH), Tim Holden (PA), Peter DeFazio (OR), and Gene Taylor (MS) consistently elected in GOP-leaning districts. This works in the red areas of blue states, and works in the red areas of red states.
Sirota also shows examples of the "corporate Democrat" and the DLC-backed Democrat losing key Senate races. John Edwards won his Senate seat in the first place with a healthy dose of economic populism. Even with him on the Presidential ticket that year, Erskine Bowles (D) lost to Richard Burr (R) in part due to Bowles being the free trade architect of the Clinton years. In Louisiana, John Breaux's annointed replacement Chris John (D) lost handily to moral crusader David Vitter (R), who we now know as a diaper dandy.
Now keep in mind he wrote all this in December 2004. If anything, the 2006 elections proved Sirota even more right. In Part 2, I'll pick up where he left off, looking at some of the key races Democrats won and lost in 2006. Some of the names mentioned above play key roles here again.