Shortly after the recent election, I came across an interesting “guest essay” in the Opinion section of what some of my conservative friends call “that liberal rag,” the New York Times.
In this editorial on “How Democrats Can Build a John Fetterman 2.0” (11-15-22), Michael Sokolove, a writer for the Times magazine, explained that Fetterman “spent more time in rural Pennsylvania than any candidate I’ve ever seen.” He did not just campaign in large Democratic urban centers, but actually went into the red zones of the state where Donald Trump had won 70 percent of the vote in the past two presidential elections.
Sokolove cited Warren County, “in the far northwest corner of Pennsylvania,” as an example. There voters went 63 percent for Dr. Oz to 34 percent for Fetterman.
So why bother campaigning in such a heavily Republican place?
Fetterman’s answer was that 4 percent more than Joe Biden got in 2020 was worth his effort. By repeating that level of “success” throughout the red areas of state, Fetterman was able to easily defeat Oz.
Of course, Soklolove tells us, John Fetterman didn’t just take his tall tattooed self to a local union hall, give a speech, and then leave. On his many visits to red counties while lieutenant governor, Fetterman “spent time in backyards, made real, meaningful relationships, so people were willing to sacrifice in order to get him over the finish line.”
This behavior may be the key to future Democratic electoral success. Meet people, even those who will not vote for you, where they live. Show respect for who they are and what they believe. Listen more and talk less.
This takes time and requires hitting the pavement or, as they might say in my home state of Iowa, stomping through the cow pastures and corn fields. It is hard work, but far less expensive than placing nasty and stupid ads on television.
And it can work: I have local evidence.
Two local candidates, both Democrats, earned positions on our local Murray school board and city council respectively by door-to-door canvassing. One of these candidates actually knocked on 500 doors in our little purple city of Murray, KY. The other one told me of how genuinely friendly people were during these visits, and that only one person actually closed the door in his face.
One of these candidates encountered a woman at our early voting site who told the candidate that she was voting for her because no other candidates had bothered to come by to see her.
So that, my Democratic friends, is what we must do – meet the voters where they live, and find out what they really care about. Even if they do not vote for you, they will appreciate the effort you made to listen to them.
It has become quite common these days for people to win political races by very small margins, sometimes even one percent or less of the votes cast. Fetterman’s 4% increase this year over Biden’s total in Warren County, PA, when repeated in other rural red counties, helped him become a United States senator. Four percent is almost a landslide victory these days.
Oh, and by the way, getting to know voters who disagree with you as human beings and fellow citizens instead of as your enemies is a way to reduce polarization over time. Even in this recent election, we see defeated election deniers conceding defeat to their opponents instead of going to court to claim election fraud.
This is clearly a good sign that democracy is raising its handsome head once again.
Should this rational behavior catch on throughout America, especially in our southern states, we can be certain that Donald J. Trump will never become president again.