If the Kentucky Democrats are smart, they will follow the lead of Alison Lundergan Grimes' comment election evening that "the rebuilding of the Democratic Party starts tomorrow." The deeper question though is what that reconstruction program will look like.
The past two elections have proven that trying to become milquetoast Republicans is no winning strategy. Grimes and gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway moved right and kowtowed to a dying coal industry rather than describing the outlines of a post-coal economy offering a new hope and a fair shake to current coal communities.
While Conway joined other state candidates at a closed-door meeting with Kentucky coal operators and promoters, simultaneous forecasts for Kentucky coal remained ominous, and some coal owners closed their mines for greener pastures and more lucrative investments.
The Kim Davis controversy, skillfully orchestrated by the Liberty Counsel, put the rule of law on trial and played nicely into the hands of Matt Bevin, which was Matt Staver's outfit's intent all along.
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The problem is much deeper than fundamentalist religion versus the rule of law. It has to do with the failure of the Democratic ticket beginning at the top to appeal to rural Kentuckians with genuinely populist concerns. These voters will now likely pay dearly for Conway's ineptitude in mobilizing hope and speaking to those issues stemming from income inequality and the clout of Big Money in national and state politics.
If the FDR New Deal helped solidify Kentucky as a Democratic stronghold, the "Bevin Raw Deal" emerging from his election by rural county Kentuckians will likely decimate those social services to those same rural voters that have kept them (barely) afloat economically through rough times.
Neither Conway's nor Grimes' campaigns showed any recognition of the Kentucky variant of Tip O'Neill's famous adage that "all politics is local." It was said by close political observers that Conway was uncomfortable schmoozing with county judge-executives or other kingmakers on visits to rural counties in the western and eastern regions of the state.
As we have seen, regional politics typically trumps metropolitan politics in the commonwealth — a political truth that the late and great governor and senator Wendell Ford never forgot.
Democrats will have to investigate how a seeming snake-oil business person with an apparent penchant for lying and not paying his taxes on time, a candidate who alienated establishment party officials and who never held public office, could win so handily.
Whatever one might say about President Barack Obama's unpopularity, the lesson of Nov. 3's crushing defeat is not to blame the national Democratic Party. It is to rethink its policy of trying to imitate Republicans and rebuild their party by formulating issues speaking to the pressing needs and misfortunes of citizens from Paducah to Pikeville.
It is to genuinely offer an encompassing political vision beyond coal, beyond Golden Triangle urban programs, and beyond right-wing pseudo-populist rhetoric that conceals the positive role of a genuinely populist agenda.
Finally, the polls predicting Conway's victory might not have been entirely wrong. They simply couldn't take into account the fact that the prospective voters who were sampled were not the actual voters who went to the polls.
Had the Democrats been able to get out the vote using an inspirational vision of a Kentucky benefitting urban and rural citizens, working class and middle-class voters; had they abandoned timid, play-it-safe strategies and tactics, the turnout might have been much larger than 30.8 percent and their state office outcomes might have mirrored or approximated their pre-election poll numbers.
The Wizard of Oz is coming to Frankfort, and many Republicans will join him there based on a politics that has led its citizens to vote against their economic interests in favor of the fool's gold of pickpocket politics, manipulative religious appeals and simplistic market solutions.
The legacy of the New Deal and the pressing needs for a real deal for all Kentuckians in the second decade of the 21st century should be the starting point for a new and visionary Democratic Party in the commonwealth.