Will the South stay solidly Republican?

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2011

The 2010 election was devastating for Democrats across the country, but the South was at the epicenter of the destruction.

One-third of the House seats Democrats lost in November came from the 11 traditional Southern states. In the Senate, Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) was crushed and Democrats came nowhere near winning an open seat in Florida or defeating potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents in Louisiana and North Carolina.

The gubernatorial level was no different. Republicans swept the six governor's elections, including in Tennessee, where the GOP broke eight years of Democratic rule, and in the electorally critical state of Florida.

Since the election, things have gone from bad to worse for Democrats in the South. In Louisiana, the state's attorney general and five state legislators - all Democrats - have switched to the Republican side since the 2010 midterms.

In Mississippi, Democrats didn't even field a candidate for lieutenant governor, state auditor or secretary of state for elections this year.

The nationwide reapportionment of congressional seats shows that the population - and the political power that goes with it - is shifting south. Of the 12 seats added, eight are in the South - including four in Texas alone.

The Republican consolidation of the South over the past two years is hard to dispute. But is it a permanent reality or simply the latest swing of the political pendulum in the region? Not surprisingly, the two parties offer vastly different assessments.

"Much of the South is just off-limits for Democrats for statewide offices," argued Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster who has worked extensively in the region. "If Roy Barnes can't win in Georgia, it's hard to imagine any other Democrat winning unless something drastic changes."

Barnes, a Democrat, was governor from 1998 to 2002, when a little-known state senator named Sonny Perdue (R) upset him. Barnes tried to reclaim the office in 2010 but lost an open-seat contest to former congressman Nathan Deal (R) by 10 percentage points.

The idea that Republican dominance in the region is even semi-permanent is belied by recent political history, insists former Obama White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, an Alabama native.

"Any political region is about cycles," he said. "Remember after 1994, when everyone wrote that Democrats were dead in the South, only to hold their own in 1998, do well by 2006 and win states in 2008 presidential [race] we'd only dreamed of being truly competitive in?"

A brief look at the electoral history of the region proves Gibbs's point.


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