For almost forty years now, the white South has been moving steadily into the Republican ranks. Indeed, white Southerners now run the GOP and provide a very high proportion of its cultural shock troops. Given these facts, we believe it’s past time to target the electoral map in a different way. The new path to the White House runs through the Latino Southwest, not the former Confederacy, especially for a Northern nominee. Hope blooms as a cactus flower, not a magnolia blossom.
We say this although we fully agree with the recent argument made by our friends Jesse Jackson Jr. and Frank Watkins that a strategy based on economic issues is critical for uniting African-American and white voters–and, we would add, Latino voters–over the long term. There is no doubt that Southern whites have been victimized by conservative bait-and-switch tactics–losing ground on jobs, wages, healthcare and retirement security while being polarized on racial issues and diverted on cultural issues (and, of course, when Southern whites are diverted, Southern blacks pay the heaviest price). Outside Florida, though, there is very little chance that enough Southern whites can be convinced of this logic to carry any Confederate electoral votes next year.
Consider this simple point by analyst Charlie Cook in The Almanac of American Politics 2002 concerning the swing suburban vote in the 2000 election: “Importantly, Bush’s scant two-point victory in suburbs this year was driven by carrying Southern suburbs by 20 points, while losing non-Southern suburbs by about 15 points.” Now balance that comment against Bush pollster Matthew Dowd’s revealing insight that if the Bush 2004 percentage remains the same with every ethnic group he won in 2000, then the Democrats could win by 3 million votes rather than half a million. Most of this increase would come from Latinos.
Where do these Latinos live? More to the point for the next presidential election, where do these Latinos live that makes a potential difference in the Electoral College? They live in four key states in the desert Southwest with huge and growing Latino populations. In 2004 these four states combined will cast twenty-nine electoral votes, four more than in 2000 and more than Florida casts. And Latino voters in these four states could be united and inspired by an economic agenda that includes decent wages, retirement security, reining in corporate corruption, rebuilding public schools, labor rights and healthcare.
§ New Mexico was a blue state surrounded by red in 2000. The race was essentially a dead heat. New Mexico now has aggressive Latino Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, who is mobilizing hard to increase the power of the Latino vote nationwide.
§ Nevada, where Al Gore fell short of the White House by less than 22,000 votes out of more than 600,000 cast, essentially doubled its Latino share of the population in only ten years. (In 1990, Nevada was 10.4 percent Latino; by 2000, 19.7 percent.) And since then, George W. Bush has signed off on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. Las Vegas also has a strong labor movement.
§ Arizona, which Bill Clinton won in 1996 and Al Gore lost by less than 100,000 votes (out of more than 1.5 million cast), now has a woman Democratic governor. Arizona is already one-quarter Latino, and according to the census, of the more than 325,000 people added to the state between April 2000 and July 2002 (the latest estimate), more than half (181,000) were Latinos.