The Solid South? Posted by: Dale Franks
on Sunday, May 18, 2008
According to Sean Lengell and Donald Lambro at the Washington Post, the Democratic Party is starting to beleive that they can make inroads in the south for Congressional elections.
Democratic leaders, emboldened by recent special House election victories in long-standing Republican districts, are gaining confidence they can retake the Deep South and other former political strongholds ceded decades ago to the GOP.
While even the most optimistic Democrats aren't predicting a return to the Dixiecrat era, when Southerners would rather vote for a "yellow dog" than a Republican, the party is having more success in recruiting politically attractive candidates who reflect the political culture of their districts.
"This is really not about ideology. It's about power," said Leon Panetta, a one-time chief of staff to President Clinton who served as a Democratic congressman from California from 1977 to 1993.
"Republicans as well as Democrats look for candidates who best appeal to their districts that they're running in," he said. "What you want are candidates who have the best chance of winning, not losing, and it just seems to me that's pretty pragmatic on the part of the people who run the [Democratic] campaign committee, and that's what's paying off for them."
That's good for the Party, perhaps, but how good is it for the Party's dominant progressive ideology? Probably not great.
When Republicans began going after the south aggressively in the 1970s—and winning it—the unintended consequence was to drive the Democrats farther to the left. Moderate and conservative Democrats became endangered species, as the party's center of gravity moved towards more liberal and urban constituencies in the northeast and far west. At the same time, the "Rockefeller Republicans" became similarly scarce as the Republican center of gravity moved out of the urban north and far west, and into the south and midwest.
What happened changed American political parties into more fundamentally ideologically opposed parties, since, in both cases, the moderating forces of broad geographical distribution disappeared, turning them into regional parties, with more specific ideological urges.
The election of 2006 saw a significant reversal of this trend, as Democrats managed to turn out a number of Republican members, and replace them with relatively conservative Democrats, like Jim Webb.
Since then, though, the Democrats have been basically unable to move forward on some of the stuff that were darling issues to the progressive crowd, such as getting out of Iraq. With the expansion of the Democratic officeholders from outside the progressive ghetto, the Democrats have had to pursue a less aggressive course, lest they lose the support of their own members from the newer, more conservative class of Dem elected officials.
To the extent that the south or midwest become more competitive, Democrats—and Republicans—will have to become more moderate in their ideologies.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I cannot say. But it serves as a useful reminder that broad-based public support for a party tends to moderate its extremes.
I don’t know about the whole moderate thing really paying off for the Republicans.
The Republicans pulled off big gains twice in recent history. Once with Reagan in 1980 and again in 1994. Reagan was a yank back to more pro-conservative conduct for the party. Although a healthy dose of backlash was also responsible, 1994 wouldn’t have been a success if the Republicans didn’t at least appear purposeful. And much of that was conservative.
Part of me wants to see Obama win, and the democrats get 60+% of the congress. See how low we can go. The only reason the Dems are ascendant is because everyone hates Bush. maybe the opposite will be true in 2012 or 2016.