The red states get redder, the blue states get bluer, and the political map of the United States takes on the coloration of the Civil War.
Nobody, of course, is pulling out rifles or cannon. But Tuesday's election results in state and local contests suggest that an already politically divided country got a little more so. We are divided by region and by race, but above all by party. It's been a long time since partisanship was as deep as it is now. Those states in the South, the Plains and the Rockies that the television networks painted red in 2000 when Bush carried them have become even more Republican. The Gore blue states largely continue their resistance.
Four years ago, the victory of Ronnie Musgrove in Mississippi was particularly heartening for Democrats. Few states have been more conservative or more hostile to Democrats than Mississippi in recent years. If Democrats could make it there, they could make it anywhere. Perhaps, some thought, Bill Clinton's Third Way, New Democrat approach could triumph on the most hostile terrain. And as Musgrove pulled out a narrow victory, Kentucky's Gov. Paul Patton swept to a triumphant reelection.
This Tuesday, those Democratic dreams collapsed. In Mississippi, Musgrove fell to the jovial Washington lobbyist Haley Barbour. There was a time when anybody carrying the baggage of "Washington lobbyist" would just keep making money and forget about winning an election. But Barbour, possessed of an old Mississippi name, political smarts and the right party label, pulled it off.
In Kentucky, Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher broke a 32-year losing streak for his party by taking the governorship over Democrat Ben Chandler. (Maybe Fletcher will give my dear Boston Red Sox a pep talk.) Chandler was hurt by a sex scandal involving Patton, who, before he got into trouble, seemed an odds-on pick to become a U.S. senator.
The lesson for now, beyond the advisability of avoiding scandal, is that regional divisions that showed signs of disappearing in the 1990s are reasserting themselves. And these regional differences are deep, not trivial. The day after Tuesday's elections, the Pew Research Center released a study summarizing the findings of polls involving 80,000 interviews over the past three years.
The study's overall findings pointed to an evenly divided and politically polarized country. And the divisions are cultural and regional as well as political. The survey found that the 12 most religious states were in the South (counting Oklahoma and West Virginia as southern states). Mississippi and Kentucky were in the top five. Of the 12 most socially traditional states, 10 were in the South (Ohio and Indiana were also on the list). Mississippi and Kentucky were in the top three. Mississippi and Kentucky were also in the top three among the most hawkish states on national security issues. On the other side, New England and the states of the Pacific Coast were heavily represented among the least religious, least traditional and most dovish.
So, from the Republicans' point of view, the races for governor this year could not have happened in more hospitable places. But just to underscore our divisions, the elections in blue-state land largely went the Democrats' way. In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor John Street was reelected convincingly after it was learned that the FBI was bugging his office in a corruption investigation directed against some of his aides. Rather than raising doubts about Street, word of the bugs galvanized his constituency of staunch Democrats, especially fellow African Americans, who suspected federal -- i.e., Bush administration -- interference in an election.
Democrats swept to full control of the New Jersey legislature. In New York City, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to switch to nonpartisan local elections was trounced. This was a victory for Democrats, who strongly opposed the move. And in San Francisco, which has those nonpartisan elections Bloomberg likes, the voters set up a runoff between a Democrat and a Green Party member. It's not the kind of election in which Bush or Tom DeLay would relish casting a ballot. But San Francisco is not the Deep South.
It is 138 years since the Civil War ended. But in politics, the past isn't just history. In the Democratic presidential race, Howard Dean is under attack for talking kindly, sort of, about the guys with Confederate flags on their trucks. In Mississippi, Republican Barbour raised a defense of the Confederate flag to help himself win an election. Up in heaven, Abe Lincoln must be shaking his head in astonishment. The country he sought to keep united is pulling apart politically, and largely along the same lines that defined Honest Abe's election victory in 1860.