I admire the spirit of Bob Moser’s impassioned “A New Southern Strategy” [Nov. 27], saying that Democrats should not write off the South in future elections, and I hope he is eventually proven correct. But I fear that his plea is premature, based on this year’s evidence. The South is the only section of the country where the Democrats did not pick up significant gains in House races. Indeed, a winning strategy for Democrats in 2008 might be to say that the Republicans are becoming a regional party, out of touch with voters in the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Coast and, increasingly, the Mountain West.
Moser’s good news from the South is based on Democratic Senate victories in Missouri and Virginia. But Missouri is actually a Midwestern state, with its more Dixie-accented southern counties voting red in the Senate race. In Virginia, the overwhelming margin in a razor-thin victory came from the DC suburbs, which are much more East Coast than Dixie.
For years the Democratic Leadership Council and other conservatives have warned Democrats that they must water down their progressive ideas if they want to win in the South. That has meant dampening the enthusiasm of many working-class, minority and progressive voters elsewhere, whose indifference has hurt the party more than conservative Southern Democrats have helped it.
The hopeful sign this year is that Democrats can win without Deep South white voters. In 2008 they should concentrate on shoring up their support in the rest of the country. Florida and Virginia, with substantial populations of Northerners, should also be targeted, along with hurricane-racked Louisiana and populist-friendly Arkansas. But it’s still too early to place much hope on winning over the rest of the South. Maybe in 2010.
Kansas City, Mo.
Bob Moser writes that “in the Bible Belt Ozarks of southern Missouri, [Senator-elect Claire] McCaskill emphasized her blue-collar message without running away from her progressive positions.” True, but Moser leaves the impression that Ozarkers actually voted for McCaskill. In fact, the Senator-elect didn’t come vaguely close to winning a single Ozarks county, where her vote percentages ranged from 25.2 percent (Barton County) to 42.6 percent (Greene County, home of two secular universities and a relative bastion of enlightenment). In booming, aptly named Christian County, McCaskill drew a mere 35.3 percent. Was she honest? Sure. But that hardly helped her in the benighted Missouri Ozarks, which in 2006 (as always) voted more like Tom Frank’s Kansas than did Kansas itself.
New York City
While my story focused on the significance of Democratic Senate victories over incumbent Republicans in Missouri and Virginia, Democrats also took five Republican US House seats in Dixie and came within whiskers of capturing two more. Jay Walljasper doesn’t count that as “significant.” But it’s not too shabby when you consider that Democrats targeted fewer races in the South than anywhere else.