Bob Neal

“I am a member of no organized political party,” Will Rogers said, “I am a Democrat.”

Rogers, whose humor eased the load for millions of folks during the Depression, was born into Oklahoma’s Cherokee nation. On stage, he tossed out zingers and subtle barbs while twirling a lariat. The irony of a lasso-swinging Indian wasn’t lost on many folks.

His point remains valid, and Democrats still struggle to get voters to check the D box, even though voters say they line up with Democrats more than Republicans on the issues.

In the run-up to Nov. 3, Democrat Joe Biden consistently led President Trump in the polls by seven to 10 points. Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon led U.S. Sen. Susan Collins by one to seven points. As you know, that isn’t how it came out.

You can’t say the results weren’t for the Democrats’ lack of trying. I got six or more emails, phone calls and glossy mailers a day backing Democrats. Most asked for money. None asked me to canvass voters, as I had done in 2018, when Democrats did well everywhere. Democrats chose early on not to canvass because of COVID-19, but Republicans went everywhere, knocking on doors. Democrats began canvassing too late.

Last spring, Democrats found millions of new voters and got them downtown to enroll. By fall, they weren’t enrolling new voters but trying to get us to vote early. Republicans, meanwhile, began mobilizing millions of first-time voters and may have turned out a higher proportion of new voters because their efforts were closer to Election Day.

After the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis came the slogan, “Defund the police!” A dumb idea that gave Trump a sound bite, since few elected Democrats condemned it.

Seems the response to “defund” was “refund the police.” We ask cops to do work for which they are not trained, such as mental-health interventions, and to deal with folks whose presence makes us uncomfortable. That isn’t police work. Democrats missed an opening to propose building a new mental-health system so police can do police work.

By Labor Day, demonstrators had marched in Portland, Oregon, for 100 straight nights, often sparking violence. You know that the occupant of the White House was ecstatic at the images. He blamed the violence on “Democrat-led” city and state governments.

Democrats needed to counter Trump with the testimony of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who reported that extremists driven by white supremacist or anti-government ideologies had been responsible for most of the deadly attacks in the U.S. in recent years.

This off-kilter “defund” sort of messaging seems a personality trait of Democrats.

Was Biden channeling Hillary Clinton – remember “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”? – when he said America should “transition from the oil industry?” And he said it in Pennsylvania, where fracking has revived America’s original oil patch. Biden spent days walking back that comment. He won Pennsylvania fairly comfortably, though not by the margin of his early leads.

Clinton and Biden might have a) underscored that the market is already killing coal and oil, and, b) propose the feds help workers hurt by the market. But, then, they’re Democrats.

The Gideon campaign seemed fixed on a path and couldn’t respond to attacks by Collins or political action committees backing her. For example, Collins took full credit for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) that sent billions of dollars to Americans harmed by COVID-19. Yes, she was a big player in the PPP, but it wasn’t her baby alone.

And it was flawed. When newspapers learned of abuses – the LA Lakers grabbed $4.6 million, a non-existent “farm” in Bridgton took $1.2 million – Gideon missed the opportunity to counter that she knows how to write legislation that works.

When Collins attacked Gideon’s handling of a Democratic legislator accused of improper behavior at an all-girls school, Gideon was slow to respond. Which just reinforced the idea that she was slow to respond when the issue is misbehavior by Democrats.

Nothing damaged Gideon more than the Bill Green ads. A Republican insider told me their polls showed Collins gained nine points after the first Green ad. Gideon’s people needed a star to counter those ads. I have no way to know whether they asked, say, Tim Sample, to help, let alone whether Sample (or some other local stars) would have agreed.

Gideon’s campaign seemed unable to adjust. Its course was raise and spend, and it ended up with $14 million more than it could spend. Still, it kept running the same old plays. What coach doesn’t adjust at half time? Apparently the Democrats’ coaches.

Give Will Rogers the last word on political success. “Popularity is the easiest thing in the world to gain and it is the hardest thing to hold.” He said that almost a century ago.

Bob Neal married a Republican from Oklahoma, a rare breed in 1965. He changed enrollment in July 2016 to D from R because Trump had hijacked the Republican party.


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