News It’s the culture, stupid

Mudcat Saunders wants to lead the Democrats out of the Northeastern wilderness

Political strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders likes to say, “Inside every rural Republican is a Democrat trying to get out.” He has put his faith into action. The Virginia native was part of the team that engineered Mark Warner’s successful 2001 run for governor, making Warner “the first statewide Democrat to carry a majority in rural Virginia in a generation,” Saunders says in his viscous maple-syrup accent — Robert Earl Keen by way of Liverpool. That feat, and subsequent shavings of the Southern rural vote for Democratic candidates, has made him and sometime partner Steve Jarding hot political capital. Saunders took a few minutes out of his hotel-hopping schedule to talk about Foxes in the Henhouse: How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must do to Run Them Out, his and Jarding’s gloves-off how-to for a Southern Democratic renaissance (Touchstone, $24).

“What’s happened in our part of the world, especially in rural areas of Texas, the rest of the South, and the Heartland, the Republicans take us for granted in these national elections,” he told the Current, “they take it for granted they’re gonna win.”

When you say that politicians take “us” for granted, you’re talking about white Southern males?

I’m talking about white Southern voters. The Democrats don’t think they can get us, therefore there’s no battle for us, and no battle means neglect. That’s why the rural South and the Heartland are taking a hit on all these trade treaties. We’re the ones that are paying for this globalization.

Why is it so hard for someone like John Kerry to articulate those issues?

It’s not just John Kerry, it’s the Democratic National Party, which has come under control of the Northeasterners. And I’ll stop before I say we got a Yankee problem in the party.

Is there room in the Democratic party for hard-core blue-state voters and hard-core red-state voters?

Yes, it absolutely can be done, but the first thing that’s gotta happen is that the Northeastern Democrats have to realize: I get up there and they tell me that they can’t believe that we’re so stupid `as` to be voting against our own economic self-interest. Well, it doesn’t have to do with stupidity; it has to do with a force that’s a heck of a lot more powerful than they understand, and that’s culture. Before the Democrats can win again in the South and the Heartland and rural America, they gotta start paying attention to what our culture is. And it’s not hard to get through. In rural Virginia we got 51.4 percent of the rural vote with a Democratic candidate. Our Democratic candidate was a Connecticut Yankee named Mark Warner. He came over here and he campaigned and told people, ‘I’m not a hunter, but I’m not gonna take your gun. I don’t go to the NASCAR races, but I appreciate it for you. We’re gonna do somethin’ about your loss of jobs.’ And he paid attention to us. What it was is, he didn’t come off as disingenuous. He came off as real, because he was.

What about issues like reproductive rights?

You’re talking about abortion ...

Abortion, birth control, sex ed.

56 percent of Americans are pro-choice, but we can no longer allow the Republicans to paint us, to identify us and who we are. The popular misconception is that the Democrats are anti-life, not pro-choice.

How do you turn that around?

You tell the truth. The truth is, abortion dropped 12 percent under Bill Clinton because of economic reasons, and they’re up 25 percent under George Bush’s administration. So who’s pro-life in reality?

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