THE DISCONNECTED PARTY: Dems Pontificate & Argue Over What Went Wrong This Election, While Sitting in Their Citadels

This is a loss of epic proportions. People are sick of the Dems and we let them know it. Dems think the people aren’t hearing what they have to say. Truth is, we hear them, but they don’t hear us. That’s why we spoke at the ballot box.

By Reid J. Epstein and Janet Hook

Republican America is now so vast that a traveler could drive 3,600 miles across the continent, from Key West, Fla., to the Canadian border crossing at Porthill, Idaho, without ever leaving a state under total GOP control.

After last week’s election, Democrats hold the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in just six states—all of them on the Atlantic or Pacific oceans—compared with 25 for Republicans.

Just a few weeks ago, when Hillary Clinton was leaping ahead in the polls, it seemed as if it would be the Republicans heading for a reckoning. Instead it’s the Democrats who are plunged into a bout of soul-searching about the party’s diminishing footprint, especially among the white working class.

The moment has been years in the making, masked by President Obama’s singular ability to knit together a broad coalition of young people, women and minorities. The last Democratic presidential nominee to connect with the working class was Bill Clinton, whose most recent appearance on the ballot was 20 years ago. Al Gore and John Kerry, who each lost to Republican George W. Bush, were both seen as cerebral creatures of an economic and political elite.

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“The coalition needs to be broader,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat. “The Democratic Party has a history that it’s been about working Americans. We cannot be a party of the East Coast, West Coast and metropolitan areas.”

Last week’s presidential defeat revealed a Democratic Party that agrees on core principles, but remains divided over which issues to emphasize, how steeply to oppose Donald Trump ‘s incoming administration and how best to rebuild after years of statehouse losses to Republicans, interviews with dozens of elected Democrats, party activists, and officials at the state, local and federal level show.

The party-wide debate is reaching into Capitol Hill and the Democratic National Committee, provoking discord between liberal political activists and the pragmatists in elected office. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton’s popular-vote victory has left some top party officials believing they still hold the keys to the electoral promised land, if only they could find the right vehicle to take them there.

For decades, Democrats have been losing support from the white working class. In presidential elections of the 1990s, those voters split evenly between the parties. By 2012, white voters without college degrees favored millionaire Republican Mitt Romney over Mr. Obama in all but one competitive state, Iowa. This year, 67% of non-college-educated whites nationwide voted for Mr. Trump, according to exit polls.

The Democratic Party’s white working-class base has deteriorated with the diminishing ranks of organized labor. Even within that typically reliable voting bloc, fissures emerged. Exit polls show that 43% of voters in union households went for Mr. Trump, just 8 percentage points behind Mrs. Clinton.

The coasts and cities are home to the core coalition of women, minorities and young voters that powered Mr. Obama to two presidential victories, and had been expected to buoy the party for years to come. But without Mr. Obama on the ballot, the disparate elements of the party have lost elections in 2010, 2014 and 2016.

Democratic losses have come at all levels of government since Mr. Obama took office and his party controlled Congress. In Washington, it has been relegated to minority status with at least 60 fewer seats in the House and 12 fewer in the Senate.

The casualties have been worse in state capitols. Before the 2010 elections, 54.5% of all state legislators were Democrats, giving the party majorities in 60 of 99 chambers. Democrats controlled both legislative chambers and held the governor’s office in 17 states.

Now, the party has majorities in just 31 of 99 legislative chambers, having lost 958 seats since Mr. Obama took office. Just 43% of elected state lawmakers will be Democrats when the new state legislatures are sworn in.

The geographic shift is clear in the political map of the House: When the new Congress takes office in January, about one third of all House seats held by Democrats will come from just three states—California, New York and Massachusetts.

“The challenge we have is that partly because of geographic distribution, there are big chunks of the country that just aren’t hearing us,” Mr. Obama acknowledged Monday during a Democratic National Committee conference call. “They won’t hear us if we’re not showing up and if we’re not there fighting day in, day out for those ideas.”

Democrats lost the presidential contest, many say, because they ceded the economic issue to Mr. Trump.

“There was an over emphasis on Trump’s personality and not enough emphasis on what the country could be,” said New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley, who leads an organization of state Democratic leaders and is weighing a run to become the party’s national chairman.

Peter Hart, a veteran Democratic pollster, said the red-and-blue map of presidential election results spoke to the legacy of the party’s neglect of working-class concerns.

“You stop listening to those people, and 30 states from the Eastern Seaboard to the Western Slope go red,” said Mr. Hart, adding that Mrs. Clinton “never had an economic message. And without an economic message, all that was left was experience which is like a pair of twos in poker: A winner until any other hand comes along.”

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