There’s a saying about Democrats needing to fall in love, while Republicans just fall in line.

Nothing illustrates the messiness of Democrats more than the hullabaloo surrounding the publication of, “Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends on It,” by Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward.

Maxmin, a former state representative and current state Senator, along with her campaign manager, Woodward, had previously penned several national op-eds, including one in The New York Times, in which they asserted Democrats had “willfully abandoned” rural Americans.

As an (unsuccessful) Maine State Senate candidate, I was instantly drawn into the discussion. I thought about volunteers who worked to help secure the Democratic majority in the Legislature and knew some would be hurt. Some were furious. They insisted Maine Democrats hadn’t abandoned rural voters and they had wins to show for it. I read their reproaches, but wondered if two opposing ideas could be true at once?

Then the criticism shifted to appalling, personal attacks, all aimed squarely at Maxmin, a woman, with few aimed at her co-author, a man. When I came across misinformation, which led to at least one person stating their intent to cancel their book pre-order, I decided to dig deeper.

So, I read the book, spoke with Julia Brown, former executive director for the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, and finally with Maxmin herself (Woodward was unavailable).

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“Dirt Road Revival” implores Democrats to shift from transactional to relational politics. Maxmin and Woodward claim rural America will be won through shared values, not sterile, policy-focused rhetoric, and cookie-cutter campaigns. I nod in agreement, though I don’t recognize their “playbook” as exclusively their own. I admire the authors for widening their canvassing universe to include voters who might have been considered “unwinnable.” And I appreciate the methods that deviate from what they deem as the Democratic, “cookie-cutter” boilerplate.

Did this approach alone translate to Maxmin’s win? That’s unclear. There are endless intangibles that generate wins. She and Woodward brought to the table years of organizing and political experience and training, including from the Democratic Party and Emerge America. Maxmin absolutely benefited from countless party volunteers. Which is why they are thanked in the book. Are they thanked enough? Maybe not. But the book isn’t about heaping praise on what Democrats do well. It’s about what they need to do better.

So, how could Maxmin and Woodward claim Democrats have abandoned rural America if Maine is mostly rural, and Democrats control the Legislature? To many, this feels like a slap in the face. Not so to Maxmin, who says they looked at national trends across rural America, adding, “It’s not trying to take anything away from the incredible work happening in Maine. Alongside that, everything I wrote in the book is true; having so many conversations every day with folks who have never been contacted by Democrats before… ‘Wow, there’s a lot of hope and opportunity and connection still to be uncovered!’”

But what about criticism of a lack of accuracy in “Dirt Road Revival”? Maxmin and Woodward claim theirs was the only Senate seat to flip from red to blue in 2020, but so did Senate District 34. When I asked Maxmin about this, she stressed that they were the only ones to flip an incumbent seat. This explanation is a bit of a stretch. Regarding other questions about inaccuracies in the book, some of them deserve more answers, however, and others are similarly stretchy.

Ultimately, “Dirt Road Revival” is a memoir of sorts. Any candidate could write one and have different accounts, but that wouldn’t make any of us liars. It would just reflect differing experiences.

The question is whether Democrats can learn anything from the book? I believe they can. From discussions about deep canvassing, to organizing and community building, even to how things in rural America move at a different pace. If Democrats can look beyond what feels like an ungrateful child accusing them of bad parenting, they will see the one goal of this “tough-love letter,” as Maxmin told me is, “…We need more Democrats elected, especially from rural communities.”

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Tough-love is never easy. When I spoke with Julia Brown, she admitted the last few weeks haven’t consisted of discourse, rather, “It’s been point and counterpoint.” I found her response encouraging when I asked if Democrats had something to learn, “It’s through the debate and discourse that we try to learn more and win more races and do better.”

I’m personally not a “fall-in-line” kind of gal. I don’t mind a bit of a mess. I do think criticism is necessary. Maxmin and Woodward offer ideas that shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. I’m hopeful Democrats can take it as well as they can dish it out because midterms are coming and there’s a lot of work to do.

Hilary Koch lives in Waterville. She can be reached at: [email protected]

 

 

 


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