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A Non-Southern Strategy?

Political scientist Thomas Schaller article in Sunday’s Washington Post makes the case that “The Democrats Need a Non-Southern Strategy”. Schaller’s basic case takes off from the fact that the Democrats almost won the presidency in 2000 without carrying a single southern state. Building on this, he argues that their best bet for winning the presidency in 2004 and beyond is to abandon the south to the GOP and concentrate Democratic resources on holding the blue states (those Gore won in 2000) and picking up states in the southwest (Arizona, Nevada, Colorado) and lower midwest (Ohio, Missouri).

DR believes Schaller is broadly right about the need for a non-southern strategy. But he is wrong in three very important ways about how to formulate such a strategy.

(1) It is wrong to cede all of the south’s electoral votes to the GOP. A non-southern strategy should be a guide to where Democrats should concentrate resources, not a dogma. To assume, as Schaller does, that the Democrats cannot even win Florida, since Jeb Bush did so well in 2002, is to let your theory overrule reality. And the reality is that Florida has been trending Democratic in presidential politics since 1988, as demographic and economic change move south Florida’s fast-growing hi-tech and tourist areas into the Democratic column. The president’s brother won an easy re-election victory in 2002 not because these changes suddenly reversed themselves, but because it was a great year to be related to a wartime president, because McBride ran a terrible campaign (including failing to choose a lieutenant governor running mate from south Florida) and because in a state election Jeb Bush didn’t have to defend unpopular GOP national positions, like Social Security and Medicare privatization.

Depending on the candidate and the situation, there may be a few other states, like Louisiana and Arkansas, within reach for the Democrats. But even if Democratic victory does not seem probable in these other states, it doesn’t follow that Democrats should give up completely on these other states. Which brings up the second point.

(2) It is wrong to abandon the south completely, so that the GOP is free to concentrate all of its resources elsewhere. If the Democrats elect not to compete in the south so that Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana–not to mention Virginia and North Carolina–are effortless victories for the GOP, the Bush team will have maximum freedom to shift resources to battleground states in the southwest and midwest and help stop the very pickups Schaller thinks the Democrats need to make. Talk about unintended consequences.

(3) It is wrong to write off southern voters as culturally alien and treat them as unreachable. This is wrong because many southern voters are, in fact, reachable by Democrats and becoming more so over time. This is especially true in the emerging “ideopolis” areas of the south–Florida’s hi-tech and tourist areas, North Carolina’s research triangle, the Northern Virginia suburbs of DC, etc.–and Democrats need to cultivate these voters, not abandon them. Otherwise, Democrats will throw away the longer term opportunities created by demographic and economic change in the south.

It is also wrong because a party that views southern voters as culturally alien and does not compete for them will be poorly positioned to compete for culturally similar voters in non-southern states like Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia. And that, again, might spike the Democrats’ chances for making the very gains a non-southern strategy is supposed to produce.

The non-southern strategy: a good idea, but the devil’s in the details on this one.


Can anyone tell me when they hauled out a giant crane and digger and dragged Missouri up North?

Why does everyone keep describing MO as a non-southern state? It can only be that they have never visited. When I rode into St. Louis on the Amtrak black men were playing the blues on instruments they brought on the train. The park managers spoke in accents so thick I had to ask them to repeat what they said. A family killed and butchered a whole hog and roasted it on the front lawn as we visited.

And, of course, Missouri was a member of the confederacy. If MO isn't southern then union states TN, WV, and KY must be fast talking Yankee strongholds.

MO is a swing state, southern or not. It was *much* closer than AR, LA, or WV. I'm sympathetic to writing off the south because, as we all know but seldom say, most of the Republican leaning is simply based in bigotry. But we must consider how to reach those blues hobbysits, pig roasters, drawlers, pick-up drivers, and other southerners because we aren't ready to give up MO (and FL).

Missouri, Florida, and Ohio are the key. They're more likely to go Democratic in 2004 than any of the other southern states.
The Gore states in 2000 cast 260 electoral votes in 2004. Missouri has 11 electoral votes, and has voted for the winner in 24 of the last 25 presidential elections. Do the math.
It's a shame we don't have a candidate from Missouri. Oh, wait! We do!

Ron Thompson

Newt: Actually, MO was a member of the Union - TN was in the Confederacy. Missouri and West Virginia are both somewhat southern and somewhat not.

Certainly with a running mate like Wesley Clark or John Edwards, states like Arkansas and North Carolina should be enough "in play" to keep the Bush team tied up in the South. Also, if controversy over W's backing one Republican candidate for senate in Florida while Jeb backs another causes trouble, then Florida could easily return to play. The large Jewish and military populations in Florida that once respectively leaned left and right, may both be much more mixed this time around.

ruy, well said. i've been over at the dkos lately and it seems many folks are ready to write off the south completely - indeed, some say we should just forget florida!!! your analysis is well stated.

when i was kid we used to play a war game called Victory in the Pacific. it was a navy/air force board game that attempted to simmulate the war in the pacific against japan. after playing the game several times one came to realize the way japan could overcome the losses at midway was to keep the us pinned down at pearl harbor. (i don't want to suggests that the details of the war in reality could have been fought this way but rather this was just one of the limitation of a board game like this.) anyway, to win the game japan only had to keep one or two squadrans in pearl harbor from the begining of the game on. of course these were always written off as a loss each turn but the sacrifice was always worth it in the final analysis. because the allied powers could never find solid footing japan was free to reek havoc all across the pacific. indeed, a few well placed victories and the battle at midway would never happen.

I believe this could be a sound strategy in the south. the recent gov race in ms is a good example: hb won the race by about 7% and to do it he had to outspend the dems by a sizable amount of money. now MS is a solidly repub state - why are they working so hard to win the gov seat? shouldn't this have been a slam dunk for them?

a few well placed $$ in some key house/senate/gov seats as well as a vigorous get out the vote campaign and we coould tie up the repubs finances for the campaign season forcing them to spend money where they already should be having easy victories.

The one caveat to this of couse is they can do the same to us in PA, CA, and the north midwest.

While we're talking who's Southern and who's not, let's just agree that you'll find at least some residual Copperhead sensibilities everywhere along I-70 and south of it. (Even L.A. almost succeeded from the Union. I saw more Confederate flag stickers in Burbank than I do here in Lexington. I am not kidding you!) Living in KY, I can say there is no reason for the Democrats to abandon this state. They can tie up GOP resources here, and, if the Democrat nominee hits the national mood just right, KY can be won--even if just barely. Louisville, Lexington, some mountain counties, and the Western KY rural communities are very much in play--just enough to get a Democrat over the top. NOTICE: Our GOP governor-elect ran against the incumbent governor specifically, not against the Democrats generally, and that's why he won. That's not to say, all things being equal, that the state isn't trending GOP. But, no trend is irreversible. (P.S.: Just don't rely on the state party to accomplish anything.)

"The large Jewish and military populations in Florida that once respectively leaned left and right, may both be much more mixed this time around."

Kenny, with regards to Jewish voters, I have serious doubts about that (and I'm talking nationally here, not Florida specifically). As far as I know, the 2000 election data showed that about 80% of the Jewish vote went to Gore. Republicans hope (and occasionally brag) that this time around, a lot more Jews will vote for Bush because he's been so pro-Israel, but I don't think it's going to happen.

Without having much in the way of concrete data to back me up, I think the situation for the vast majority of Jewish voters is that they might not vote for a candidate whom they perceive to be ANTI-Israel, but given a choice between two candidates who are both clearly pro-Israel (as the eventual Dem nominee will be, no matter who it is--there was a slight flap or two with Dean on this, but they've gone nowhere and I really don't think he's going to have problems on this issue), having one who is maybe, arguably, slightly more pro-Israel is not enough to swing their vote against their better instincts on domestic issues, which are mostly Democrat-leaning for the huge majority of Jewish voters.

Just to clear up any historical confusion, here are the facts.

MO was a Confederate state.

TN was Confederate, but never went through Reconstruction as it volunteered to rejoin the Union as fast as the legislature could arrange it -- before Reconstruction started.

The three southern states that stuck with the Union in spite of their slaves -- putting the democratic process above parochial concerns -- were MD, KY, and WV. WV was a brekaway Unionist piece of VA and the origin of the stories about brother fighting against brother back in the days of our nation's most violent and destructive war.

I agree cannot write off Florida, if for no other reason than to force W to defend it. I don't think anyone has won the modern Presidency without winning at least 2 of the big 4- CA, NY, TX & FL (replace Fl with Ill for earlier elections). Democrats have an advantage with Ca & NY. Write off Texas. That leaves Florida. The more money and time and volunteers W spends in Florida, the less he can spend elsewhere. W has more money, now, but I expect the democratic nominee can still compete with the 527's out there and perhaps by opting out.


I am not sure what history books you have been reading, but i am from st louis and MO state history was required to graduate the 8th grade ;) . technically speaking, MO was a union state. however, because of its geographic placement the mason-dixon line ran right through the center of the state. while much of the southern portion of the state wanted to succeed they were unable to because the northern half of the state (mostly lutheran abolitionists) controled the state legislature.

in either case this arguement is a moot point because most poeple from MO today would call themselves midwesterners.

RUY--It's not even a strategy worth talking about, unless the Democratic Party wants to pull out of the South entirely, including in COngress and local races. I don't think THAT would work well, either, as it would effectively prevent our party from re-taking EITHER house of Congress for the foreseeable future.

No, the "persuadable" South--states like Fla., La., Ark., N.C., Va., Tenn. and, yes, WVa.--should be campaigned in and actively pursued. Why should we allow Dub & Co. to feel "safe" about the South, and then put their money into "picking off" other states to prevent a Dem. win? That's a LOSING strategy if I ever heard one----and hard to believe anyone with any political savvy is even considering it. With such a strategy, we might as well "write off" winning the presidency for the next, oh, twenty years or so...

The overall strategy of bypassing the south is a sound one. Racial politics being what it is the Dems are going to have a very tough time down here in 04. What the eventual nominee can do is make sure that each state party spends money to make Bush work but he shouldn't spend any of his own presidential funds in any of these states. It'd be a waste.

Leaving aside Missouruh's history for a moment, let's focus on the electoral math. It's crucial, and, as we know-- painfully close.

My view is that no competitive state should be written off, whatever its region or electoral count. I'll just make this point: Louisiana has two Democrat Senators and now a Democratic governor. There is a reason George Bush didn't campaign in Louisiana like he did KY and MS. A moderate southern candidate (with an Arkansan twang perhaps) would be highly competitive here-- and in, of course, the enormously important Sunshine state.

Forgive me, but the historical ignorance is beginning to annoy me. Missouri was not a member of the Confederate States of America. The state--very much like Kentucky--was riven by its own Civil War between pro-union and pro-Confederate forces. It elected congressmen to both the U.S. and confederate legislatures--it was a rhetorical and literal battleground throughout the war. Like Kentucky and Missouri,Maryland also divided between pro-union and pro-confederate factions, but it had a pro-union governor, and Lincoln essentially trusteed the state, keeping it in the union. I think its reasonable, on both historical and political grounds, to analytically limit a discussion of the "South" to the eleven states of the Confederacy (Strom Thurmond, for example, got only about 1% of the vote in Kentucky running as a Dixiecrat in 1948--and, of course, wasn't on the ballot in MO vs. favorite son, Truman), but, culturally, it's a close call.

On the merits of the argument, Schaller is very much on point, with the caveats DR raises--although I disagree with him, as I'll outline below. Progressives have been trying to pull together a coalition of working class whites and blacks since the days of Tom Watson--Watson apparently went mad from the effort. The combined electoral votes of the far west and the Northeast total 180, and almost everyone of those states are just as likely to vote Democratic as Alabama is to vote Republican--PA is, in effect, the Florida in the heart of the Democratic base, a swing state that Dems still carried last time--yet the GOP doesn't wring its hands over getting the "I'm pro-choice and I vote" bumper sticker vote in Oregon and New Jersey. Florida, with its large, non-Cuban Latino population, large, liberal Jewish population, and Miami "ideopolis", is not a typical Southern State. Nor is Louisiana, with its significantly higher Catholic population. Arkansas, for indigenous reason, also is more amenable to Dems on the presidential level.

Where I disagree with DR is on the level of energy to appy to the other Southern states until the blessed day comes when Southern white men see the light--life is too short. The real work has to be done by the labor movement. A renewed "Operation Dixie" must take place in the South, and only then will there be significant ballot box changes. In 1984, for example, Mondale split unionized white men with Reagan 50-49--but lost non-union white men 20-80. Unions change people's world view--and frequently make them Democrats. Until labor can organize the South, hold the Gore base, go to the SouthWest and Ohio, and stick to Florida, Arkansas, and, maybe, in some years, Louisiana.

Schaller in his online chat in the post explains why the "make the Republicans spend money in the South" argument is unconvincing. Here's the quote:

Start with this fact: any amount subtracted from a ratio yields a wider ratio. If GOP has $240M to spend to Dems $160 (a 3:2 ratio), and Dems gamble $40M in south to "keep the GOP honest" but Rove counters with $40M to play it safe, what's the result? GOP now has $200M to $120M, a wider, 5:3 ratio to spend elsewhere. Unless DEMS are certain that $40M will yield something, spending it is a waste and counter-productive. and the more you spend, the wider that ratio becomes. Pitchers never throw a fastball to a fastball hitter who can't hit the curve just to "keep him honest." until he learns to hit the curve, you send him a steady diet of curveballs. the fastball to keep him honest ends up over the fence.

Here's the link to the full chat transcript:

Florida should still be in play. But La. I think is a long shot. Sure Blanco just won the Governorship but she is way more conservative than any Dem nominee. She's anti-abortion, anti-gun control and anit-affirmative action.

I think the best use of the dem's resources is shoring up the Gore states that were close and going after Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Florida. All places where the 2000 Gore + Nader would have beat Bush or come within 1%.

This whole cannot-write-off-Florida thing is starting to irritate me. Did we learn nothing from 2000? They cheated then, and they will cheat again. The fix is already in, so we shouldn't waste our time or resources.

Together, 13 Southern states have 168 electoral votes -- almost two-thirds of the total needed for President Bush to win re-election. Last time around he carried them all, and reapportionment has added five more votes to the Southern tally in 2004.

Write off the South at the Party's peril.

The best thing about this argument is that it reminds us of an important fact: there's more than one way to skin a cat. The more creative we can be, the more open we can be to new theories, the more chances we'll have to win in 2004.

As a born- and bred-Missourian, the state breaks down thusly (roughly):

St. Louis city and Kansas City south of the river are urban Democratic strongholds. St. Louis County and suburban Kansas City swing like Dean and Sammy. Exurban STL and KC is GOP territory. Central Missouri (outside of Columbia and Jeff City) is Dixiecrat territory that trends R in national elections and increasingly in state elections as well. Columbia is college-town liberal. Jeff City is a swing state-government company town. Southwest Missouri is the only historically Republican portion of the state. Southeast Missouri is like Central Missouri, but has more African-Americans. Northern Missouri has patches of D's (Kirksville, St. Joe) but is trending R.

Culturally, rural Missouri along and south of the Missouri River is Southern. St. Louis and Kansas City and to a lesser extent northern Missouri are culturally Midwestern.

I strongly disagree with the Non-Southern strategy. It's true that the Republicans have recently swept southern governorships (LA being the exception) but in the not too distant past Dems have had significant success even in the Deep South. During the last 4-6 years Dems captured the gov in South Carolina, Alabama, and even Mississipi (true the last round reversed these gains) long after many thought the Deep South was solidly Republican. More recently Dems captured the Gov in VA with Mark Warner, surely one of the most Republican states in the South, and can we forget pretty boy Edwards winning in Jesse Helms's NC?? The fact is that Dems lost govs in SC, MS and GA due in some part to confederate flag controversies (the flag over the dome in SC, the confederate flag being part of the GA and MS state flags). Sonny Perdue in GA used Roy Barnes's changes to the GA state flag (radically reducing the conf. flag portion) to clobber the Dem in rural GA. Musgrove in MS stupidly called a referendum to change the state flag which he lost by 60%. Haley Barbour btw constantly campaigned with a MS state flag pin on--he's no idiot. The flag is an important part of the South's heritage. It is no accident that Northerners know nothing about the Civil War while Southerners talk like it was fought last week.

Another reason why the South hated recent Dems is gun control. Both Clinton and Zell Miller have pointed out that the NRA played a major role in many southern states for Bush. The Dems were tagged (correctly) as the Rosie O'donnell party and Charlston Heston traveled up and down the South being treated like a rock star. Even non-gun owning southerners are super pro-gun and Clinton's gun control efforts after Columbine created real hatred. Thanks to Clinton the NRA reached more than 4 million members, many in the South. This is is why Mark Warner was so smart in VA. Warner ran as pro-gun, so much so that the NRA remained neutral between him and the rep candidate. Can you imagine that??

Finally, The south is also one of the areas of the countries that has been hardest hit by free trade related job losses especially textile jobs plus it has a lot, tons in fact, of poor white southerners. You can call them what you want, rednecks, crackers, white trash, trailer park trash and all sorts of other nasty names but the fact is THEY ARE POOR AND THEY LIVE LIVES NOT MUCH BETTER THAN THOSE IN THE INNER CITIES!! How do these folks really benefit from republicans policies like tax cuts for the wealthy? Again, this is one of the reasons why populism always, always has life in the South. Populism started in the South over a hundred years ago with guys like Tom Watson, and is why someone like George Wallace was so successful. It wasn't just that he wanted to keep the Blacks down--HE ALSO STOOD UP FOR THE LITTLE GUY AND HE SPENT LIKE A FAR LEFT LIBERAL DEM on schools, hospitals and rural roads.

Bottom line is that a Dem with a Progressive, Populist economic message who doesn't go out of his way to insult the confederate flag and who is pro-gun can do very well with southern whites. This is of course what Dean is trying to do and was trying to say. Look at his record--he really does have a pro-gun record and he is the economic populist of this election. Btw how about a Dean/Mark Warner or Dean/John Breaux ticket? Finally the same demographic phenomenon in the Southwest is also present in the South. Blacks have a higher birth rate than whites in the South and the South is also the destination of choice for many Hispanics, esp. Mexicans. Places like NC, GA, FL, AL and, of course, TEXAS are rapidly becoming more hispanic. Not enough to help Dean but a trend worth watching.

Amazing. What about people like myself who was born and raised in the south and am a democrat?

To suggest that the democratic party attempt to win without a southern stragtey sounds as though the democratic party is located somewhere outside of the south. I thought it existed all over the country. Perhaps people in the south should be consulted before some non southerner decides democrats' strageteies.

Democrats outside of the south who are media people and democratic leaders treat the people of the south in a very shabby manner. No wonder the south goes republican. The Republicans make every effort to get the south and they embarce southern white people they don't dump on us like the guy who came up with this idea seems to be doing.

When Julia Roberts was on the Oprah show she stated that when she first arrived in NYC she had a terrrible accent. Many southern people think they have to repudiate the south and turn on their own history in order to become accepted because that is how we are always treated and how we have been historically treated. I hate that mentality. We should never allow anyone to tell us that we are somehow not acceptable. THE SOUTH is not a foreign country. Our accent is no better or worse then a Brox, Brooklyn or any other accent and Julia Roberts should have said that rather then allowing herself to be manipulated into denying her own people as though we don't exist.

I am not willing to accept that someone outside of the south is somehow in charge of our party. I have as much say in what we do as anyone else. THIS IS MY PARTY!

Just try to win the White House without us.

In all of my newsletters which come from NYC or California people dump on me and lump me together with the Christian right. I have come to hate many of the internet liberal media because of the way they treat me.

Thanks to Ruy Teixeira for rejecting this idea. Even if it wasn't for all the right reasons. Yankees should figure out that southern people are actually involved and are actually reading the things they write.

Dixie today, Dixie tomorrow and Dixie forever!!!

Ky is becoming a Republican state because people are sick of politicians who support gay marriage, partial birth abortion, taxes and oppose US military operations. For years, Kentuckians would vote Democratic just because dad and grandpa were Democrats.

While Democrats hold House, GOP has 22-16 edge in the Senate and 5 out of 6 US Representatives. Bush and McConnell won most of the one reliably Democratic western counties.

In 1995, Democrats had a 2.5 to 1 registration edge which is now just a 1.6 to 1 edge according to Secretary of State's office.

Scott, Woodford, Bullitt, Kenton, Campbell, Grant, Anderson, Hardin, Shelby, Spencer and Nelson are fast becoming GOP counties as Democratic numbers is flat while GOP adds dozens to the numbers each month.

Show me an area where the Democrats are becoming more popular and I will show you an area in decline-Coal fields and inner city Lousville.

Show me an area where the GOP is increasing and I will show you a progressing area-Central and Northern KY. Only the SE part of KY is the exception and this is due to anti-slavery.

The Democrat party has lost the south because of their values. Not race. Not flags. It is values folks!