Valerie Bauerlein’s article “Political Woes Dog Republicans Across the South” in today’s Wall St. Journal should lift the spirits of Democratic candidates. She touches on the Vitter (LA), Ravenel (SC) and Fletcher (KY) scandals and other GOP headaches across the region, and paints a dismal picture for Republicans hoping for new gains in ’08. Bauerlein’s article is subscription only, but Facing South‘s Chris Kromm also has a story on the mostly Republican scandals in the South, with an interesting riff on Vitter’s somewhat redolent support of his larger corporate contributors.
Bauerlein offers this cautious assessment of the GOP’s and Dem’s prospects in the region:
…Republicans look more vulnerable than they have in years to losing ground in the region’s legislatures and statehouses. Though there isn’t any sign of them losing their dominance in the region, the once-formidable “Solid South” coalitions they forged in the 1980s and 1990s to end a century of Democratic dominion have given way to messy schisms and infighting. Today, they look a lot like the bitterly divided Democrats of three decades ago.
Most of those divisions stem from internal rivalries that have developed as the party consolidated power in the region, where they control half of the legislative chambers. Some of the tensions can be ascribed to dueling priorities between legislatures and governors. Others have been caused or exacerbated by personal scandals like the one involving Mr. Ravenel, who has pleaded not guilty to the cocaine charges, but hasn’t made any public statement about them.
But there are some signs that GOP dominance is beginning to fade Even before the latest round of GOP mess, the 2006 elections signaled at least a small reversal of Democratic fortunes. Bauerlein notes that Democrats picked up a net 25 seats in Southern legislative races, their first since ’82, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The GOP’s recent gains notwithstanding, Democrats do have a fairly solid base of elective offices in the South. Democrats currently hold majorities of both houses of the state legislatures in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina and West Virginia (and one House in TN and KY), as well as the governorships of Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, two U.S. Senate seats in both Arkansas and West Virginia, and one each in Virginia, Florida and Louisiana.
It appears that the red tide that has polluted southern political waters for the last quarter of a century is at long last beginning to recede. If the state and local Democratic parties can seize the opportunity presented by the GOP’s escalating troubles, Dems should be able to build on their ’06 gains in the South.