The 2008 juggernaut: Reagan Democrats
They were the defectors of the late 20th century who twice swept Ronald Reagan into office in landslide proportions: ethnic working-class Northerners, typically Catholic with traditional values and populist tendencies.
Nearly 30 years after they first split from their party, Reagan Democrats are once again at the epicenter of an election cycle.
These Reagan Democrats left their natural base in the 1980 presidential election because their party was no longer their champion. Thanks to a sour economy, weak national security and political pressure groups that hijacked the Democrats' agenda, they jumped ship in favor of Reagan.
Since then, these habitual ticket-splitters have largely been ignored by their party of birth.
Hillary Clinton's brilliant pitch to the right in the New Hampshire primary debate last week left no doubt.
"She scared me because I thought that she did so well," said Charlie Gerow, GOP political strategist, uber conservative and former Reagan campaign staffer. "I was sitting there watching this thing, and I thought, 'Geez, there must be something wrong with me -- I agree with Hillary Clinton.' "
Democrat strategist Steve McMahon knows these voters are "the key to electoral success in national elections."
"When Hillary said abortion should be 'safe, legal and rare,' and makes a big point about how 'rare' is as important as 'safe' and 'legal,' she is talking to the Reagan Democrats," said McMahon.
The Democratic Party defines Reagan Democrats as values voters -- people who vote more on the basis of values than issues.
In 2005, Howard Dean was the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee and saddled with a party weakened after years of national losses. Determined to turn the tide, he commissioned a massive poll with Cornell Belcher aimed directly at values voters.
After poring over the polling data, Dean recognized a couple of things:
- First, Democrats did not speak about their faith -- but they should.
- Second, when Democrats talked about abortion, they didn't emphasize that it should be a last resort. While Democrats needed to protect the rights of women, they also needed to talk about taking care of every child brought into the world -- an aspect on which Republicans are perceived to fall short.
Dean took his poll to the party's leadership and to labor leaders. He pointed out that while swing voters do share Democrats' values, the party was not speaking to them in the right way.
Dean's mission became to link things in a way that makes it more difficult for cultural conservatives to walk away from Democrats.
The challenge for both parties is similar: dealing with the control of the primaries by the parties' extremes. For Democrats, it is their bloggers who want out of Iraq tomorrow; for Republicans, it is the extreme pro-lifers.
If Republicans want to win, they should remember that Reagan, as president, never let the abortion issue define what it meant to be a Republican. He was against it but he never took steps to make it harder to obtain.
The more each party must run to its corners and defend what mainstream America considers extreme positions, the harder it becomes to win over Reagan Democrats.
Republicans need to give citizens a reason to vote for them and against Democrats.
Democrats just need to give citizens a reason to vote for them.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Founder of Z&M Cycle Sales in Hempfield killed in Florida motorcycle crash
- Penguins notebook: Maatta making strides at practice
- Steelers notebook: Bryant confident in backup Jones if Big Ben can’t play
- New York City’s salt warning rule to take effect at chain restaurants
- Uniontown man charged with rape
- Fabregas: To pay or not to pay: Hospital’s bill for procedure or insurer’s rate?
- PennDOT details closings as work continues on Parkway West
- New Florence man charged with killing police officer
- Canon-Mac’s Gladden to play at Marist
- Man shot in leg outside Uniontown apartment
- Shaler woman gets top spot with group aimed at promoting kids health in school