I have been compiling a list since the last election of all the reasons people offer to explain Democratic losses here in Maine.

So far I’ve heard 31 legitimate, defensible reasons put forward by pundits, Facebook commenters, family members and others.

Some of them are mutually exclusive. For instance, we can’t have failed to “run to the center” with a campaign that appealed to moderates while at the same time failing to run one that spoke to economic populists on the left, could we?.

Other proposed reasons, like the referendum to ban bear-baiting that may have driven high turnout in Republican areas, are convenient scapegoats but ones whose accuracy will be tested only when the final data is returned for analysis.

One factor, however, seems to be universal even at this early phase of the post-mortem: We Democrats failed to articulate a compelling alternate vision for growing and strengthening the economy.

Mike Michaud’s “Maine Made” plan detailed some useful new ideas, but it did not adequately compete with the Republicans’ traditional broad themes of low taxes and reducing regulations.

We had some fresh, targeted ideas. The Republicans have big ideas that don’t change.

Whether this was the deciding factor is up for debate, but there is little dispute that Democrats need to speak to economic issues with clearer focus. We need to compete on big ideas.

But how?

That is really the threshold question for Democrats right now, even before we get to the substantive policy.

I have been a participant in, and very close observer of, many aspects of the party over the last four years, and as such I have formed some strong opinions about what the party truly is. One of my central conclusions is this: We are both blessed and cursed by the “bigness” of our tent.

As a result, answering this pivotal question about economic policy forces the elemental fault lines of the modern Democratic coalition out into the open: We are unanimous on the major social issues, while at the same time we accept vastly disparate views about economics.

(An interesting historical side note is that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition was exactly the oposite. It had broad agreement on economics, while sustaining widely varying opinions on social issues.)

This is not a criticism. Democrats need to lead on anti-discrimination and women’s health care.

At least in Maine, however, many of the historic fights in those areas are over, and they no longer suffice to animate the Democratic coalition and attract non-party voters. Those are our big ideas, but right now they are not enough.

So, today we reflect on an election that was largely about economics, and we need to plot a way forward that both elevates new ideas and fresh approaches that also keep faith with our core values.

The fundamental question right now is whether that is possible, given the diversity of the economic-based factions under our big tent. I believe these are the factions:

 Economic Populists/Unions: Who are primarily focused on evening the playing field between corporations and working people, coupled with large public investments in projects.

 Anti-Poverty Advocates: Who are centered on lifting up low-income Mainers through programs like Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage.

 New Entrepreneurs: Who are technocratic, reformist and focused on creating conditions for new business growth.

 Traditional Businesspeople: Who are long-standing advocates for moderation of taxes and other business costs.

The fact that there are Democrats in each faction is a tribute to the power of our views on social issues and our unanimity of opposition to conservatism.

But, when set side by side like this, it is easy to see the looming challenge in crafting an economic policy agenda for the Democratic Party.

Is the result a power struggle that one faction will win? Will the various factions try going it alone? Are there compromises that each faction would accept to reach consensus? Or are there new ideas that can be weaved through all of the factions and provide the foundation for a brand-new, all-encompassing approach?

There is no shortage of people right now who can identify problems with the Democratic message. What this moment calls for, though, is people with the creativity, honesty and fortitude to put their names on new ideas and forge a better program that yields a better message.

Our ability to compete with the Republican Party may very well depend on sewing an economic thread through the party factions as strong as that which unites us now on social issues.

— Special to the Telegram