Two Democrats are fixing to give their floundering party the literary equivalent of a slap upside the head with an unusually practical guide to recovery.
By Jill Lawrence
Strategists Steve Jarding and Dave “Mudcat” Saunders have signed a contract with Simon & Schuster to write what Jarding describes as a bare-knuckled “blueprint for how Democrats can win again in the South and the heartland.” Various chapters will instruct candidates on how to handle issues such as God, guns, gays, national security and the Confederate flag.
The timing: spring 2006, in time to help Democrats who are running for governor and Congress. The advance: mid-six figures. The twist: a tie-in country music CD to grab attention.
The two are working with Nashville’s Music Row Democrats. Bluegrass singer/songwriter Ronnie Bowman is writing the title song, Foxes in the Henhouse, also the name of the book.
What sets Foxes apart from other upcoming political books is its authors. They are not journalists or commentators but tacticians who have tested their theories and won.
Jarding, 46, and Saunders, 54, helped Democrat Mark Warner become governor of red-state Virginia in 2001. Warner, a Connecticut-born cell phone millionaire, appealed to hunters and NASCAR fans and used a bluegrass theme song.
Some critics called the approach gimmickry. Jarding and Saunders counter that Warner showed he understood rural culture without claiming to be part of it. He offered proposals to revive rural areas, and it worked: He took the governorship and is now a Democratic presidential prospect for 2008.
Like Warner, Jarding and Saunders embody their party’s contrasts. They champion have-nots in rural America, and they are partners in a real-estate development company.
Saunders, born in Roanoke, Va., dabbles in music marketing and production and wears Ralph Lauren jeans, but he talks in a deep country drawl and recalls times he lived on rabbit and blackberries.
Jarding grew up in South Dakota (born in Ethan, pop. 299) and now teaches at Harvard. He dreams of kicking off the book tour there with a bluegrass concert because, he says, Harvard is a liberal elite bastion, and “this elitism has just been a killer.”