“Mudcat” Saunders, a consultant who’s worked on campaigns of John Edwards, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, has long advised Democrats on how to win the hearts and minds of Southerners, including in his 2006 book, “Foxes in the Henhouse: How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland, and What the Democrats Must Do to Run ’em Out.” Saunders is currently advising Wayne Powell in his attempt to unseat Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District.
Saunders admits that his candidate has “an uphill climb” to upset the powerful incumbent but says, “If we continue to raise money and our fundraising kicks up a little bit more, we’ve got a legitimate shot.” (In response to Saunders’s statement, Cantor deputy chief of staff Doug Heye said, “It’s an interesting strategy by Dave to admit that his candidate does not have a ‘legitimate shot’ at winning. That may be a first in American politics.”)
As for Democrats across the South, Saunders says it’s about appealing to Reagan Democrats.
“Reagan Democrats are ready to come home, there’s no question,” Saunders told POLITICO.
“Democrats go after class and Republicans go after culture, and culture wins every single time. I say, as far as Reagan Democrats are concerned, in every Republican there’s a Democrat trying to get out, but as long as we continue to not knock these cultural wedges out, to not properly articulate them, we can’t win the cultural battle.”
Saunders said that for Democrats to improve their odds in the South, they need to play up their talk of individual liberties.
“Liberty is everything and you don’t hear anybody talk about liberty anymore besides the tea party, and I think they’re right to talk about it — and we need to be talking about liberty as Democrats and get back to the constitutional stance that our party believes in.”
Saunders admitted that, on the presidential level, the Obama campaign is smart to send Vice President Joe Biden to rural, Southern areas.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Joe Biden is more effective,” Saunders said. “It’s blue collar. He’s one of us. He talks strong. He raises hell, and we like that.”
Watch POLITICO’s full interview with Saunders above.