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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is Newt Gingrich Southern?

Something I’ve noticed in the commentary on Haley Barbour’s decision against running for president is that it’s often asserted there is no longer a “southerner” or “true southerner” in the race. Aaron Blake did this in the Washington Post yesterday.
Now this has got to hurt if you are former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer or former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, since I suspect it’s their seriousness as candidates rather than the authenticity of their southern background that’s in question.
But what about Newt Gingrich, who represented Georgia in the U.S. House for about twenty years?
Sure, Newt was born in Pennsylvania and was an Army Brat who moved around. And he’s never had a southern accent. Nor was his suburban Atlanta House district–at least after he moved to avoid being gerrymandered in 1991–the kind of place where it was easier to find good barbecue than a good bagel. I used to tell people who complained about southern domination of American politics and cited Gingrich as an example: “Newt’s district isn’t in the South. It’s a collection of subdivisions and malls where you can phone the South toll-free.”
But still, the guy moved to the South (Columbus, Georgia to be exact) during high school, and never left (even now he lives in Virginia). He did represent Georgia for a long time. His presidential campaign, assuming it happens, will be based in Atlanta, and he’s got a lot of high-profile cracker support (including the current governor, Nathan Deal, and a famous former governor named Zell Miller). I don’t know exactly how much that will help him in, say, South Carolina, but it’s not as though the man will have to be taught how to speak at a Southern Baptist Church (he was once a Baptist deacon before a divorce or two; he’s now a Catholic, which doesn’t hurt in the South like it used to) or what to order at Lizard Thicket. While no one will ever confuse Newt with a magnolia mouth like Barbour, let’s give the guy a break and let him call himself a southerner if he wants.

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