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A Democratic Southern Strategy – Compete!

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Message Stephen Crockett
A Democratic Southern Strategy - Compete!

There seems to be a growing sentiment that Democrats do not need to win elections in the South to control the political future of the United States. There is some truth in this position but little political wisdom.

The fact is, just looking at the numbers for Congressional seats, Senate seats or electoral votes for President, that Democrats can control American national politics without Southern victories. However, the South is an important bloc of votes and is winnable for Democrats. There is little reason not to compete for Southern voters.

Republicans are strong in the South. The Southern states are the national base for Republican Presidential candidates. It is the only region of the nation where Republican representation in the House and Senate seems solid. The other traditionally Republican regions, in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains states, have clearly become competitive for Democrats.

Many Democratic pundits seem inclined to write-off the Southern states to eternal Republican control. This is a serious misreading of the current political situation and likely future trends in the South. The Howard Dean inspired DNC 50 State Strategy is a much better approach. It will take more time and resources to show impressive results. It should be given more time and a much higher political priority.

The demographic changes in many parts of the South will eventually produce much more favorable terrain for Democratic candidates. The explosive growth of Hispanic and other minorities will greatly help Democratic prospects in places like Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. The explosive growth in Northern Virginia has already helped elect Democrats in Virginia. Arkansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are all becoming more competitive because of demographic changes favoring Democrats.

Democrats ran well in the South in 2006. Republicans did not defeat any Democratic incumbents in the Congressional or Senate races as they clearly hoped to do early in the election cycle. Republicans hoped to defeat Senator Nelson in Florida. Nelson won by a landslide. Senator Allen was defeated by the Democratic challenger, Senator-elect Webb, in Virginia. Democrats won an important Congressional seat in North Carolina with the Shuler victory. These races demonstrate that Florida, Virginia and North Carolina are winnable at the Presidential level with the right kind of Democratic candidates and campaigns.

In Tennessee, Harold Ford ran a strong race for Frist's Senate seat. He did not win. However, it was not a Republican blow-out. The Republicans poured huge amounts of money into the race and used really nasty campaign tactics to fight off the Democratic challenge. The money diverted to Tennessee may have helped Tester in Montana and Webb in Virginia. The Democratic Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen was re-elected in a landslide. Democrats retained there majority in the Tennessee Congressional delegation with 5 out of 9 US House seats. Democrats can certainly compete in Tennessee.

In many Southern rural counties, the Democratic Party lacks the infrastructure needed to win campaigns. Strong Democratic area around the nation should partner with a struggling southern rural county Democratic Party to help them raise money, develop public relations operations, candidate recruitment programs and GOTV machinery. Small contribution of resources in those areas should show dramatic results in future elections. The Southern Republican base was largely developed in a very similar fashion. The fat cats of the Republican Right poured millions upon millions into local Republican Parties in the South while local Democratic Parties lacked outside help from national Democrats.

Democrats need to help local Democratic Parties take on Republican incumbents like Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, Congressman Tom Feeney in Florida and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx in North Carolina. In 2008, strong Democratic Congressional races in Southern states can help the Democratic Presidential ticket carry some Southern states. If Republicans lose more than a couple of Southern states, they cannot win the White House.

A Democratic political message that highlights economic bread and butter issues in a populist form can help Democrats win in the South. Democrats need to aggressively publicize Republican hypocrisy on moral issues. Democrats need to crusade against legal and illegal corruption in government. It is important for Democrats to respond to Republican lies on issues like guns, religious freedom and taxes. Southern Democrats need to define themselves instead of letting Republicans define them.

The Democratic National Committee is working to make every state competitive. It is an excellent development that DNC field operatives can be found in places like Mississippi. Republicans are being forced to expend huge amounts of resources to hold their geographic base in the South. The Democrats finally have the Republicans playing defense. This should be a key part of a Democratic Southern Strategy.

Written by Stephen Crockett (host of Democratic Talk Radio ). Mail: P.O. Box 283, Earleville, Maryland 21919. Email: . Phone: 443-907-2367.
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Stephen Crockett is co-host of Democratic Talk Radio and author of the Democratic Voices opinion column.
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