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In 2004 after a humiliating collective loss of the majorities in the House, Senate and the presidency, the professional class of Democratic Party was stunned by its fractured state with voters.

Twelve years later, after winning back the presidency and historic majorities in the House and the Senate, they have collapsed again, and again that same professional class of the Democrats is back to being stunned.

The Election Day losses evaporated everything that former chairman of the national Democratic Party Howard Dean had put in place for the comeback midterms of 2006; gone was his 50-state strategy program, along with values messaging and the simple mechanics of good candidates running down-ballot.

Also gone, a full-time chair; both Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who served after Dean, were only part-time. They, along with the Obama for America folks, divested the party of any investment in party infrastructure in red and purple states that would pay dividends for the party post-Obama.

In short, the classic bottom-up politics of the once iconic party of the people was gone; and it was also being run part-time.

Now Dean wants his old job back, the question is: Will left-leaning forces prevail?

“You could make a pretty good argument that this election was the culmination of giving up on Howard Dean’s plan,” said Bruce Haynes, founding partner of Purple Strategies, and a GOP strategist.

The challenge for the Democratic Party is not trying to figure out how to get smarter about the micro-elements of politics; they are unquestionably good at micro-targeting and analytics and knocking on doors, said Haynes.

“Their challenge is they have lost their connection with the America voter. In short, they have a macro problem,” he said.

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Dean’s 50-state campaign was focused on getting connected with the macro problem, then Obama came along and it is obvious everyone misinterpreted what his win meant.

People felt that Obama won because of his digital operation, micro-targeting and data analytics and ability to find and turn out voters, Haynes said. “And the reality was, he won because he was a charismatic candidate who connected to the future with a strong message of hope and change that identified with broad coalitions of voters.

“Trump reproduced that, and Clinton lacked that in its entirety,” Haynes said.

And now the Democrats stand on the outside looking in at virtually every major governing function in the country. From the presidency to Congress to the Supreme Court to governorships and state legislatures.

“We need someone who understands the big problem and focuses on it,” said Kevin Washo, who ran the civic side of the Democratic National Convention planning committee in Philadelphia.

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“One of the things Dean taught me was that he was not afraid to pick fights to get things done, one of the things Americans like less than bullies are wimps,” said Washo, who reaped the benefits of Dean’s strategy when he served as the Pennsylvania Democratic state party executive director when the former Vermont governor was chairman.

“He brought that attitude to the party in 2006 when we were down and we needed it, but it also bought a bigger plan to bring all kinds of voters to our side and start to listen to our argument to win back governing,” he said.

Those “values” messaging went out to the reddest of states with a strategy to go after the hearts and minds of rural voters through radio — and it worked.

Back then Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist also at Purple Strategies who worked on the messaging for the midterms, said “there was no screaming, no partisan attacks; the tone was neither shrill nor harsh, just simple messages that began with ‘Are you tired of …’ or ‘Think about this … .’ “

McMahon’s team wrote short radio ads, read by a local voice that people hear every day, that were embedded into a radio station’s weather, sports, news and farm reports.

“We need that kind of outreach again,’ Washo said.

Since Dean left, the Democrats have lost more than 900 state legislative seats in both the upper and lower chambers and 69 House congressional seats. After Nov. 8 they only control the governorship and both houses of the state legislature in six states.

“We need to do a better job of talking to a larger swath of the country,” said Washo, a Philadelphia transplant who grew up in Scranton, Pa., where a lot of his fellow Democrats voted for Trump on Election Day.

“We also need a full-time chairperson,” said David Axelrod, the former campaign manager for Obama.

In short, a true majority party for the Democrats is one that sees no flyover country at all and gives equal value to all voters, said Axelrod, adding that while there were a lot of smart people running both the Clinton campaign and the DNC, “There was too much tactical thinking.”

“The Democratic Party cannot send a signal there is a new coalition and tens of millions of white working Americans are not part of it,” he said.

“Our strategy to communicate to those voters, as well as having a presence in every state is where we have fallen short,” Washo said.

The power brokers of Washington are behind Rep. Keith Ellison, a five-term Minnesota congressman and member of the progressive wing of the party who has the support of both outgoing and incoming minority leaders Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York.

He also has the support of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who pushed the party to impose the most progressive platform in its history this summer at the convention.

“We need a bottom up 50-state strategy here for sure,” said Axelrod, “And it is also a full-time job,” he said, adding that it takes a combination of skills that include not only the ability to make a case to voters, but building a party organization to reach people with the tools of modern politics.

“I say that not as an endorsement but as a fact of a way to go forward for the party,” he said.

Axelrod said there is more than the presidency and congressional majorities at stake for Democrats, such as state legislative seats and statewide offices, “There are a whole series of things that the party should be concerned about and you cannot abandon any of it,” he said.

“There has to be that recognition that even if the Democrat Party isn’t going to carry a state in a presidential race, it is still important to be competitive at other levels, that is how you build capacity,” Axelrod said.

“One of the things that happened in this election was there were whole parts of the country was largely written off and writing off the party actually accentuated Trump’s message to those voters you have been disdained and forgotten,” he said.

The Democratic Party unwillingly abetted that message, he said, “And needlessly. Because that notion of economic fairness and the dignity of value of work, these are messages that are fundamental to the Democratic Party, but they weren’t well communicated in this campaign.”

Going forward, the Democratic Party needs to fundamentally change its approach to all of its voters, or voters willing to consider supporting them. It also needs to be present in every state, it had all of that in place by the time Howard Dean turned over the reins to Kaine in January of 2009.

Since then they have lost their social contract with their supporters with their messaging, and their lack of presence within those voters’ communities, a phenomenon that led to voter disenfranchisement between the party and its people.

It’s an open question whether Democrats let the party elite continue to run this party and pick candidates like Evan Bayh, who forgot his own home address in his native Indiana because he never visited the state after he left. Or do they go back to what works best and work within those communities?

Salena Zito is a columnist for the Washington Examiner.

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