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ANALYSIS: Defeated Democrats grapple with loss of working class whites

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Washington, United States | AFP |

Shut out of power, US Democrats are in the throes of self-examination, trying to figure out how to reconnect with a neglected constituency: white Americans disenchanted with globalization.

“We just got a shellacking, we got an unexpected defeat. And we’ve got to recalibrate, and decide how we go forward,” said GK Butterfield, a representative from North Carolina, amid the tumult of the US Capitol.

“It’s like death, there are different stages of grief that you go through,” he said.

For the first time since 2006, Democrats are outside the White House and in the minority in both houses of Congress.

Hillary Clinton, who went down to a stunning defeat as her party’s standard-bearer in the November 8 presidential elections, has refused to indulge in a mea culpa.

But Democrats looking to make a comeback in the 2018 and 2020 elections are doing it for her, spreading out the electoral maps as they conduct a postmortem of the party’s devastating loss.

In the industrial Midwest and Great Lakes, a region running from Pennsylvania through Ohio and Michigan to Wisconsin, whites turned out en masse to vote for Republican Donald Trump.

The celebrated coalition of minorities — mainly African Americans and Hispanics — that elevated Barack Obama to the White House in 2008 proved insufficient to overcome the pro-Trump wave among blue collar workers and less-educated whites.

Nationwide, 67 percent of whites without a college degree voted Republican, according to exit polls.

“We have to talk to blue collar workers. We need blue-collar workers to vote blue,” said Tim Ryan, a 43-year-old congressman from Ohio, the epicenter of the Trump earthquake.

“In order to do that we need the message and the messengers to connect with them and pull them back into the Democratic camp,” he said on CNN.

Hakeem Jeffries, a member of Congress from New York, attributed the loss to economic anxiety among working class whites that Trump succeeded in exploiting.

“We have got to reevaluate how we are communicating our message because on the ideas we are right,” he said on C-Span, the television channel that covers congressional proceedings.

“Obviously there are people out in America who are not hearing that in a compelling fashion,” he said.

 Leadership battle 

The rebuilding began with the party’s leadership in Washington, where the jousting for position is already underway.

Filmmaker Michael Moore, who had warned that Democrats were facing defeat because of working class disaffection, called for “a clean sweep in this party.”

“They all have to go,” he said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “And they have to make room for the progressive Democrats, who are going to come in here, are going to be needed to fight the things that Trump is going to do to the people of this country and the world.”

One of the leadership candidates getting attention is Keith Ellison, one of the first members of Congress to endorse Bernie Sanders against Clinton in their primary battle.

It was a daring move at a time when the entire Democratic establishment was firmly behind the former secretary of state.

“It is not enough for Democrats to ask for voters’ support every two years. We must be with them through every lost paycheck, every tuition hike, and every time they are the victim of a hate crime,” he said as he announced his candidacy for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

But Ellison, an African American Muslim, represents an urban district in Minnesota that is unlike the rural areas and suburbs that Democrats hope to recover.

Another candidate for the post is Howard Dean, a populist who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

 ‘New voices’ 

A bigger leadership contest is unfolding in the marble halls of Congress, the nerve center of US politics, as Democrats decide whether to re-elect their longtime leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi.

A leadership vote was to have taken place this week but was delayed until November 30, a sign that the 76-year-old Pelosi could face competition.

Among the potential challengers is Ryan, seen as the leader of a younger generation of lawmakers. His Ohio roots could be a plus for wooing back blue collar voters.

“The House leadership race is really going to be an important signal to many Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans of what the new Democratic Party looks like,” Ryan said Wednesday on MSNBC.

As President Obama sees it, the party’s renewal will require it to “compete everywhere,” — not just in the large urban centers Democrats have long relied on.

Obama weighed in subtly on the looming leadership battle on Monday, saying: “I think we want to see new voices and new ideas emerge.”

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