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Thursday, July 10, 2008

A New Southern Strategy

No, not the Republican's southern strategy, which sought to divide voters along racial lines, but Obama's. Bob Burnett writes in the Huffington Post:
It defies the conventional wisdom to believe that a Democratic presidential candidate could prevail in what has been a bastion of conservatism since the Nixon era. In 2004, Kerry lost most of these states by more than 10 percentage points; his closest margin was 5 points in Florida. It seems paradoxical to suggest that brown-skinned Barack Obama would close this gap, perhaps win in North Carolina, where Kerry lost by twelve points. Nonetheless, Obama's campaign has a compelling three-part strategy.

The first part is to play upon McCain's inherent weaknesses as a candidate. One is his age: many voters believe the 71-year-old Arizona Senator is too old to be President. Another weakness is his connection to President Bush, who is extremely unpopular. Obama's comparative youthfulness underscores his claim to represent change, a new way of looking at America's problems, a message that appeals to younger voters. Another McCain weakness is the fact many evangelicals do not see him as a fellow traveler, as a committed Christian. Even though McCain has paid lip service to conservative evangelical positions on abortion and gay marriage, to many southern Christians he lacks religiosity. To many Republicans, McCain is more reminiscent of General George Patton than President Ronald Reagan, bellicose rather than inspirational.

The second part of the strategy involves changing the composition of the southern electorate. The Obama campaign is aggressively registering new voters throughout the U.S., believing that they are inspired by Obama's hopeful message. In the south they are enlisting African-American voters, who already constitute more than 30 percent of the electorate in Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In Florida and Texas they are registering Hispanics, 20 and 34 percent of the electorate, respectively. Everywhere, they are courting young voters who prefer Obama to McCain by wide margins. They are also signing up independents. While 36 percent of voters now identify as Democrats, another 36 percent define themselves as Independents -- and the remaining 28 percent are Republicans, whose numbers are steadily declining. Obama leads McCain among Independents by a 46 to 39 percent margin.

The third part of the Obama strategy recognizes the importance of religion in the lives of southern voters. In 2004, George Bush got 61 percent of the vote of those who attended church at least once per week. According to the latest Gallup poll only 50 percent of the same base prefers McCain. Thus Obama's candidacy has the potential to cut into a recent Republican base, one that is particularly important in the south.
Good things almost always come in threes, and it'll be very interesting to see how November plays out in the South. It's fixin' to be an historic electoral year, one of shocking surprises and seismic shifts across the nation, and there's no reason to assume the South won't be party to those changes.

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