The American Prospect has two must-read articles for Democrats. Written, respectively, by Stan Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira, they lay out the party’s deep challenges with working class working class voters. Crucially, it is not just the white working class. Middle-down voters of all hues have lost faith in their party.
One glaring problem is a lack of working-class candidates. Too often, Democrats nominate affluent urban professionals to run populist campaigns. The vast majority of these candidates mean well, but they struggle to gain credibility in working-class districts. It is hard to take someone’s solutions seriously when you don’t believe they understand your problems. Fairly or not, working-class voters seem skeptical.
Candidates like Larry Kissel are more effective. Kissel, who won and held the eighth district for four years, was a social studies teacher. He had likely taught the children of laid-off manufacturing voters. Voters knew that he understood their problems because he was present on the ground in their communities. Or, as Bill Clinton said in 1992, “when people lose their jobs, there’s a good chance I know them by their names.” That’s a powerful pitch.
Republicans understand this. They do not hesitate to run farmers, small business owners, or even bail bondsmen. The GOP has had great success with this strategy. Unfortunately, Democrats have steadily moved away from it. As consultant John Davis pointed out, the percentage of business owners in the Democratic caucus fell off a cliff in the late 2000’s. The business Democrats were largely replaced by attorneys, who had less of a cultural connection to voters.
There is a place for professionals in any well-functioning political party. But there is also a place for working people–and they have largely lost it. Going forward, Democrats should emphasize recruiting black and white working-class candidates to run in districts where their occupational pool predominates.