Allow me a few thoughts on this issue of the Democrats and the South.
Increasingly, some Democrats are saying that what the party needs is a âNorthern strategy,â one that gives up on the South and focuses on the North and West, the partyâs regions of natural strength. Iâm not without sympathy for this argument. In fact, I used to make it a lot myself, even proposing a few articles on the topic at the magazine I used to work for.
For instance, much was made about how Al Gore lost the election in West Virginia, long a bastion of Democratic party strength. But, for my money, if one has to pick one state, I always thought that he lost it more in New Hampshire --- a state which, given recent national trends, is a more logical state for Democrats to snatch away in a national election.
Now I have a lot of ideas about the Southâs long historic tendency toward one-partyism, its deeply divided internal political and social dynamics which is the root of that tendency, and how the more socially liberal parts of the country have in recent decades developed a truly misguided sense of moral inferiority toward this region. One might also add my reverence for William T. Sherman.
But for the moment let me point out some key weaknesses in this argument.
A few days ago I mentioned how Kentucky congressional candidate Ben Chandler had endorsed Wes Clark and how Clark supporters were pointing to this as a sign of Howard Deanâs unpopularity in the South, or in this case, a border state.
Numerous readers wrote in to say that no Democratic presidential candidate was going to win Kentucky in any case, so the whole point was irrelevant. I agree that it is highly unlikely that any Democrat is going to win Kentucky next year. And even a successful Democrat would at best only pick off a few Southern states like, say, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.
But thereâs something key being missed by those who want to write off entirely how Democrats play in the South.
The most important of these is that there are large chunks of the South that are, to put it squarely, in the North. For instance, large portions of Ohio and Pennsylvania and Missouri â âNorthernâ or âMidwesternâ states that Democrats must do well in in a presidential contest â are culturally very much in the South. Not South Carolina perhaps, but very much like Kentucky.
The devil is in the details as always but to a real extent if you write off the South, youâre actually writing off or risking writing off parts of the North without knowing it, parts Democrats must win.
More on this later.