Richard Davis: Like the Red Sox, Democrats can win again in Utah

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Only with serious changes will Utah Democrats be able to gain the trust of voters statewide.

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The Boston Red Sox won the World Series last week, their third in a decade. The rival New York Yankees have won only one series in that time period. Undoubtedly, the Red Sox have become the team to beat.

Yet, it wasn’t always that way. Before 2004, the Red Sox had not won a world series since 1918, while the Yankees won 26 times during that period. The Red Sox usually lost to the Yankees, winning the American League pennant only four times in 86 years, while the Yankees won it 38 times.

Many fans believed the Red Sox were cursed for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. Winning the World Series seemed an impossible dream. The curse continued year after year.

In the early 2000s, the Red Sox overhauled their management, their players, and their approach. New players drafted from other teams played to win. These new players refused to accept the curse.

Similarly, in politics, today’s losers can be tomorrow’s winners and vice versa. A local example is the competition between Utah’s two major political parties. At one point, in the 1970s, Democrats controlled the governorship and both houses of the state Legislature. Democrats routinely were elected to Congress from Utah.

But over the past 30 years, Utah Republicans have dominated. No Democrat has won an election for governor since Scott Matheson 34 years ago. No Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat from Utah since 1970! With only five Democrats of 29 in the state Senate and 14 of 75 in the state House, Democrats are at their lowest ebb since the 1960s, while Republicans dominate in nearly every part of the state.

Like the Red Sox, Utah Democrats may feel cursed. It seems they just can’t win elections. Many Democrats have despaired of winning the state and have adopted a defeatist attitude that perpetuates the Democrats’ losing streak.

However, like the Boston Red Sox, the tide could turn again for Utah Democrats. Democrats could become the majority party in Utah or at least become competitive with Republicans in the state. But it will not happen from wishful thinking or due to national events. Rather, like the Red Sox, it will take an overhaul.

The Democrats will need to begin with new management. Leaders of the party will need to be people who are able to reach out to moderate Republican voters who are disgruntled with the tea party. Many Republican and independent voters long for an alternative, but they need to feel comfortable in a Democratic Party that is moderate, not liberal.

Like the Red Sox, Democrats will need to draw more players from a winning team. For Utah Democrats, that includes some candidates who are former moderate Republicans who can appeal to their Republican friends and neighbors. Like new Red Sox players, these new players may not play the game Democrats are accustomed to. They are likely to differ with the national party platform on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, which will reassure voters who consider those issues important. Then, with voters comfortable as Democratic candidates share their values, these new candidates can talk about issues such as education, economic growth, and the need for cooperation.

They can tell voters they deserve a public education system that doesn’t cram as many children as possible into a classroom; and that they should have a governor and legislature that do not view those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder as prone to become dependent on government help if they expand social programs to assist them temporarily through economic hard times. They should have representatives in Congress that don’t consider “bipartisan compromise” a dirty word.

But even with some dissatisfaction with Republicans, right now most Utah voters don’t consider the Democrats a viable alternative. Only with serious changes will Utah Democrats be able to gain the trust of voters statewide. The tide may turn in Utah politics, just as it has in major league baseball, but it won’t be by happenstance. It will happen because Utah Democrats, like the Red Sox, take the necessary actions to make themselves winners once again.

Richard Davis is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of BYU.

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