I bumped into a diary at DailyKos last night which I will use as a jumping off point for something that has been bothering me for quite some time. The diary contended that John Edwards is not the guy to nominate in 2008 because he cant win in the South. This is a questionable claim to begin with, but it builds itself off the premise that Democrats need to win in the South in order to win the Presidency. Its a rediculous argument that a lot of people like to make, I would like to do my part to put it to rest.
After signing the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson said that he had lost the South for the Democratic Party. That still holds true, the South is by and large a dead region for Democrats. Even in a landslide Congressional victory, the Democrats picked up only two Congressional seats in the South, one in Kentucky and one in North Carolina. In the exit polling data, the South is the only region in the entire Country that the Republicans recieved more votes than the Democrats. So even in a tidal wave election in which the Democrats won by overwhelming margins almost everywhere they still did not do well in the South. This demonstrates that the South is far more hostile to Democrats than any other region in the Country. Yet the myth lives on that Democrats cannot win without winning Southern States and that therefore a Southerner on the ticket is needed. These people like to point to the success of southerners in Presidential elections. However, any Republican can be tossed out as irrellevent to Democratic success because the region is so strongly Republican we can expect them to win it regardless of who they run. Advocates of a southern focus for the Democratic Party point to Bill Clinton's electoral success. This actually demonstrates contrary to what advocates of a southern approach tend to argue, that Democrats dont need to worry about the South
If we look to Bill Clinton's elections in 1992 and 1996 in which he won by large margins with a few southern States. he would have won the election whether he won in the South or not. Arkansas, Louisianna, Kentucky, and Tennessee (and Georgia in 1992 but not in 1996) were bonus States for Clinton, they had no effect on the election. Clinton won 370 and 379 electoral votes, in 1992 Clinton won 47 electoral votes from the South. Subtract 47 from 370 and Clinton still would have won 323 and won the White House with a solid margin. Same holds true for 1996 when Clinton won 34 electoral votes from the South in a 379 EV win, subtract the south and Clinton would have won with 345 electoral votes. The South made no difference to Clinton. He won not because he could win in the South but because he had appeal elsewhere. In both elections Clinton won a couple of southern States on the back of Ross Perot swiping votes away from Bush and Dole respectively. So its clear that a) Clinton wasnt as effective in the South as his reputation and b) that Clinton didnt need the South in order to win.
A winning Democratic strategy should not be built arround the South, it is the most conservative region in the country. For every hour you spend trying to convince Southerners to vote for you, you could have spent 30 minutes to convince the same number of voters in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, or the Southwest. Demographic trends are actually promising for a Southwest strategy rather than a Southern strategy. The US population is increasingly shifting to the Southwest, and long term Democratic success would be smart to focus on Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and even Texas. This is where the US population is moving and this is where there are voters who can be convinced to vote Democratic. As the hispanic populations increase in these States there is a potential for it to become a farely strong region for the Democratic Party. There are votes to be won in the Southwest, not in the South. I'm sick and tired of this claim that the Democrats cant win if they cant win in the South. They can, and any Democrat who wins in the South only does so after they won significant victories over the rest of the country.
Certainly any State that the Democrats can pick off from the Republicans would be positive, and if we pick off some States that happen to be part of "the south" then that's great. Certainly Virginia increasingly looks like a State where Democrats might be able to win. But focusing on appeal to southerners is wrongheaded, Democrats should seek to appeal to States that can reasonably be won with some efficiency like Ohio, Florida, or accross the Southwestern region. Below is an electoral map I compiled based on census data, it shows where electoral power will lie in 2030 if the demographic trends continue as they have. Whoever wins in the Southwest, California, and Texas will likely control the White House in the future.