Democracy is not dead, to begin with.

Voters across the nation showed the vitality of our democracy on Tuesday as they thronged to the polls — and earlier, millions more sent or delivered ballots — in mid-term elections.

Having stood outside polls shaking voters’ hands in a biting wind in Belgrade, New Sharon, Mount Vernon and Fayette for more than eight hours on Tuesday, I am reassured that people want to participate in our democracy. Many shivered along with me as they waited to vote.

A minute to update. I was the Democratic candidate for the Maine House of Representatives in District 58, which is New Sharon, where I live, Fayette, Mount Vernon, Vienna, Rome and Belgrade. I greeted voters coming to the polls, saying about the only words the law allows within 250 feet of the door: “Hi, I’m Bob Neal. Thanks for voting today.” My elder son did the same in New Sharon, Vienna, Rome and Belgrade. Between us, we shook 1,000 hands.

I’m again writing columns because I lost the election. A brief bit more about that later.

Nationally and in Maine, voters may have set the Republican Party on a path toward the future. Finally. Voters set Democrats on that path six years ago, and Democrats haven’t walked it very far. Or steadily. Both parties need to strengthen and lengthen their step.


Voters in 2016 sent Democrats a message when a badly flawed candidate lost to a horribly flawed human being. Our best hope is that Republicans get the message of 2022 when voters rejected many of the hand puppets that horribly flawed human being had anointed.

That includes here in Maine, where “I was Trump before Trump” tumbled to humiliating defeat. Gov. Janet Mills’s big win over ex-Gov. Paul LePage is an opening for Republicans to rejoin the mainstream and come up with conservative policies and programs to advance Maine, rather than snarling at the camera and calling even political allies “repugnant.”

Here’s hoping.

David Brooks has noted in The New York Times that party bases have shifted. Republicans now depend on people who work with their hands, Democrats depend on people whose hands hold college degrees. That leaves those of us who do both as a bridge.

In the future, Democrats must regain support from working people. That doesn’t mean going back to the 1950s, but it may mean supporting labor unions. Democrats can start by backing the nascent steps of food-service workers to unionize. The flip side is that Democrats end their dependence on Wall Street donors. The hypocrisy of talking about the middle class while taking campaign bucks from the barons is blatant. And shameful.

In a time when more people graduate from college, Republicans need to reach out to degree holders. Tuesday’s early analysis shows that young people, many with degrees, turned out in droves. And that Republicans were often on the wrong side of the issues that tweak young voters, such as abortion, the sanctity of democracy and the party’s role in making today’s young people the first generation with prospects poorer than those their parents knew.


For now, we know that voters delivered the messages in 2016 and in 2022. It is up to Democratic and Republican leaders to listen. And to heed.

To jump back into the column-writing saddle, I reread the 11 columns I wrote before leaving to run for office. I found the theme there had become the backbone of my campaign pitch. My pitch: “Rural Maine is dying. Here’s how I want to stop that.” I suggested the state reform regulations, guarantee private loans to small businesses and grow the technical college system to provide people with needed skills. And that as a school director and selectman I had worked in a bipartisan way to get things done. The pitch seemed to resonate.

I knocked on 3,500 doors, spoke with 1,300 people and left a flier at every house. I used two pounds of elastics to hang fliers on door knobs. I had never known how many elastics are in a pound. By the end, my age was telling. I was mentally tired, and I’m sure voters noticed. I had shortened my pitch to a minute from four minutes, which meant not fleshing out my ideas. No mention of wood products developed by UMaine, which had been part of my early core message. That meant no details about how to grow the community college system. Or to work across party and geographical lines.

Worse, it meant I wasn’t quick to respond to questions. I found myself hesitating to answer a voter’s question as I gathered thoughts I had had a thousand times before.

People who support issues with which I generally agree put referendums on the ballot in three of the district’s six towns. The issues seemed to bring out conservatives to vote against town-financed broadband, solar farms, etc. When they marked the referendum ballot “No,” they may have also marked the Republican line on the candidate ballots “Yes.” Or maybe they just didn’t want an 82-year-old rookie in Augusta. Or just didn’t like me. Who knows?

But democracy is alive and well, unlike Jacob Marley in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Bob Neal believes that not many people can say the best learning experience of their lives came at age 82. He can, and he is grateful for that.

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