Before the next election, Democrats in Maine and Washington, D.C., could do worse than take a page from an oil-burner repairman from Farmington.
Charlie Webster may know his way around a furnace, but he is also being praised as "the architect" behind the sweeping Republican Party in Maine last month.
On Nov. 2, Republican candidates wrested control of state government — the governorship and State House — from Democratic control.
Webster revealed some of the not-so-complicated tactics that guided the Republicans' Election Day victory.
While Republicans got a big assist from a prolonged national recession, high unemployment and voter disappointment, they also had a practical game plan that worked.
1. Connect with the concerns of Maine's wage-earning electorate. Webster and fellow Republicans tapped into blue-collar worries about the state's business climate and job losses.
2. Have a clear, easy-to-understand message. Webster said he distilled the GOP message into a dozen talking points.
3. Recruit candidates who fit their districts and mirror local voters. "We recruited teachers, nurses, truck drivers, lobstermen," Webster told the Sun Journal.
The Republican candidates tapped in southern Maine were generally less conservative than candidates in northern Maine.
That's called practical politics, and it wins elections, although it runs counter to the no-compromise dogma of the tea party wing of the GOP.
"(We) don't want to introduce or propose anything too earth-shattering," Webster told the Sun Journal, which doesn't sound much like the Republican Party platform adopted in May, which calls for adopting "Austrian economics" and "rejecting the Law of the Sea Treaty."
Not exactly mainstream concerns.
One key behind the Republican victory in Maine was setting priorities that reflected real concerns and then sticking with them.
This simple idea still seems to elude Democrats in Washington.
Despite the now infamous "shellacking" last month, congressional Democrats have pushed repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and getting the immigration "DREAM Act" onto the agenda for the lame-duck session.
Important issues, to be sure, but if Americans said anything in last month's election, it was that the economy and unemployment are the top priorities.
Charlie Webster points out that he spent his first term in the Maine Legislature as a Democrat, but soon concluded that Democrats no longer represented the best interests of working people.
We will find out in two years whether Democrats can recapture the confidence of those ordinary Mainers.