Senate President Troy Jackson, D- Aroostook, conducts business at the State House, Tuesday, April 12, 2022 in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty

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Julia Brown is the former executive director of the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

The trope that Democrats are wildly out-of-touch with rural America is hardly groundbreaking. It’s a line that appears repeatedly in the nation’s largest newspapers, most recently in a column written by Maine state Sen. Chloe Maxmin in  The New York Times. This may be a fair argument in other parts of the country but it doesn’t reflect my experience nor the reality in Maine.

To be clear, many of the strategies and call-to-action put forward by Maxmin are valid and important. As the campaign director for the Senate Democrats in 2020, I campaigned hard for her. But I don’t understand why she tears down the other successful rural candidates, campaigns, and volunteers to spread her message.

Right now in the Maine Senate, Democrats hold the largest majority held by either party in over 30 years. This was only possible by winning rural and non-rural senate districts and earning the support of both Biden and Trump voters. The real question in Maine isn’t about how Democrats have lost rural America. The question is: How did Maine Senate Democrats win back rural voters and regain their trust?

It wasn’t some messiah with an “only-I-can-fix-it-attitude” that made the Maine Senate one of the few legislative chambers where Democrats picked up seats in a red wave year. That didn’t secure us back-to-back historic majorities  in 2018 and  2020 either. Put simply, what worked was the one thing that makes Maine run: Neighbors talking to neighbors about the future of this state. It’s how we won races in every corner of the state, with candidates knocking on doors and meeting voters — Democratic, independent, and Republican — where they were.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows is a perfect example. Before becoming Maine’s first female secretary of state, she represented a state Senate district that went handily to Donald Trump. In fact,  she flipped the seat in a terrible year for Democrats nationally,  winning the district by nearly 10 points even with Donald Trump on the ballot. Over and over again, it became clear that Bellows won the seat by knocking on the doors and serving her constituents regardless of their party affiliation.

Sen. Ned Claxton, a retired physician from Auburn, also  defeated a Republican legislative leader, flipping the seat in 2018. He won by knocking on doors and having honest conversations and that didn’t change once he was in office. His community coalesced around him building the largest campaign apparatus in Senate history.

Then there are incumbents who have proven their ability to split tickets over and over again, like Senate President Troy Jackson, a fifth-generation logger from Allagash, who won his seat in 2020 with almost  60 percent of the vote compared to President Trump’s 55 percent.

Over the last three campaign cycles, state Senate candidates and their teams have knocked on over 300,000 doors. More than half of these conversations were with Republican and independent voters. It’s why I’m so offended by claims that Senate Democrats do not talk with Republicans. In fact, how Senate Democrats talk to voters has been vital to our success cycle after cycle.

More importantly, once elected, these majorities, driven by rural victories, put resources right back into their communities. They deliver on property tax relief, keep rural health care options open for veterans, and fund schools to ensure that all Mainers get a quality education, regardless of zip code.

While it’s great that Maxmin was able to forgo having a traditional job, the truth is few Mainers will ever have the luxury she has to campaign full-time for a role that pays less than $15,000 a year. It’s also dangerous to lump all rural people into the same category, and equate a win in coastal Maine with any other district unique in their own way.

There are a lot of Mainers who deserve credit for making our historic majority possible by supporting Maxmin and the rest of our extraordinary candidates. So, I’m going to use my voice to amplify some of our rural champions. Thank you to all the volunteers and ally organizations who built coalitions to knock on doors. Thank you to the thousands of voters who took a moment away from life, family, and work to cast a vote.

Democrats have a lot of work to do. I know we made mistakes — most campaigns and political organizations do. And we shouldn’t be immune to criticism. But if there is one thing to take from Maine, it’s that there is no one hero coming to save the day. Just ordinary people coming together to make their community stronger.