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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Southern Comfort

Over a month ago I did a long, complicated post on prospects for some sort of Democratic comeback in the South, and probably lost a lot of readers halfway through with a “three-wave” theory and a tangent on the need for two-way biracial coalitions (an ensuing exchange with Armando of DailyKos got even further down into the weeds).So thanks to Ruy Teixeira of Donkey Rising for doing a post yesterday that zeroed in on the biggest sign for Southern Democratic hope on the toughest landscape, the presidential level: a set of statistics I cited but buried in too much prose.

In 1996, Clinton split the southern vote, 46-46, with Bob Dole. One of the keys to his strong performance was this: he actually carried southern white moderates by 46-44.In 2004, however, Kerry got beaten by 15 points in the south (57-42). So where have all the southern white moderates gone?In a sense, nowhere. The ideological profile of the southern electorate has barely changed since 1996: it was 17 percent liberal/44 percent moderate/39 conserative then; it is 17 percent liberal/43 percent moderate/40 percent conservative now. And among whites, the ideological profile was 15 percent liberal/43 percent moderate/43 percent conservative in 1996; it is 14 percent liberal/41 percent moderate/45 percent conservative now.Not much change. But what has changed is a big swing from Clinton’s 46-44 support among southern white moderates in ’96 to Kerry’s 58-41 deficit among the same voting group, whose size and electoral weight remains as potent as ever, in 2004.There’s your target. Move southern white moderates back toward parity and the Democrats are back in the (southern) ballgame.

The odds of making serious gains among Southern white moderates–and also of cutting modestly into the massive GOP margins among conservatives–are even better in non-presidential-year state races, like those coming up in 2006. Already, two strong potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the Deep South are focused on winning by swaying suburban moderate voters. Alabama Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley could benefit from a cultural-issues split between backers of incumbent Governor Bob Riley and his likely primary opponent, Ten-Commandments-toting former Judge Roy Moore. And Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox cites her ability to win key Atlanta suburban counties in 2002 as a major credential in her bid to topple incumbent Gov. Sonny Perdue.Just goes to show: sometimes the regional stereotypes can be misleading. Given all the talk in national Dem circles about the need to appeal to NASCAR-obsessed, pickup-truck driving rural Bubbas, it would be especially rich to see two women take over state houses by winning suburban moderates.

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