The Democrats’ Southern Paradox

Democrats are fond of blaming their political death spiral in the South on ignorance, racism, homophobia & fundamentalist Christians who long to turn America into “Jesusland,” but there’s actually a much simpler explanation: the Democrats in the South have always been relatively moderate and the Democratic Party is run by radical liberals. This article from U.S. News & World Report Helps Explain..

“DURHAM, N.C.–The hundred or so Democratic activists gathered in an auditorium at North Carolina Central University on a January weeknight to meet with state party bigwigs have each been given two paper flags–one green, one red. When someone says something they agree with, attendees are supposed to wave green flags; if they disagree, they wave the red. Plenty of the proposals elicit green flags, like withdrawing from Iraq. Then a member of the state party’s executive committee suggests reaching out to NASCAR dads. “We have churches and values,” she says, “and we have to make that clear.” A wave of red flags ripples across the room. Grumbles activist Don Esterling, 62: “We don’t need to be Republican light.”

Or maybe they do. In the American South, the ranks of Democratic senators have shrunk from 20 to four since 1980, and the party’s presidential ticket has lost every state for the second time in a row. “This is the worst it’s been for Democrats here . . . since Reconstruction,” says Emory University Prof. Merle Black.

…Even if Democratic Senate and presidential hopefuls learn to connect personally with southern voters, it’s unclear if the winning strategies of southern Democratic state officeholders can hold up in national races. Virginia’s Warner, for instance, has reined in a spiraling budget deficit and instituted popular education reforms but has been able to duck divisive national issues like the Iraq war. Southern voters want button-down governors who “keep schools open and roads paved,” says Guillory, “but see federal officeholders much more ideologically.” Which means, in North Carolina, many voters split ballots between Easley and Bush. “[Easley has] done right by education and attracted employers,” says Ann Barnhill, 50, a Greenville lawyer who voted for Easley but backed Bush to show wartime military support and because she detects a softening national morality.

Can Democrats produce a nominee in ’08 who wins over southerners without bringing on “Republican light” charges from party activists? Easley says recent history isn’t reassuring. “Too often, we’re cheering the candidate at the convention,” he says, “while looking around at one another saying, ‘Hmmm . . . he’s not gonna do well at home.'”

So there’s the paradox the Democrats have to deal with in the South. A lot of Southerners will vote for “moderate” Democrats, but would rather pull the lever for a Republican than a “liberal” Democrat. However, because the money, ideas, and power players on the Democratic side are dominated by the left, “moderate” Democrats have great difficulty getting nominated or generating any enthusiasm among the party faithful. Unless Democrats can break that cycle, expect them to continue to lose in the South.

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