Bill Clinton was more successful than most post civil rights Democratic Presidential nominees winning five former Confederate states each time he ran for President. However Clinton's unpopularity in the rest of the South led to unprecedented losses for the Democrats in the region from US Senate right down to local offices. When Bill Clinton left office in 2001, Republicans controlled the US House delegations from each former Confederate state other than Mississippi and Texas. Now as Barack Obama prepares to enter the White House, Democrats control the House delegations in Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia (pending a recount in the 5th district.) Democrats have also picked up seats in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama since Clinton left office.
Much of this has to do with the Democrats refocusing on kitchen table issues and dumping polarizing personal politics of the Clinton years. While the South remains one of the two most conservative regions in the country (the Mountain West being the other) a focus on economics can win over enough Southern voters to help maintain Democratic majorities in the House. President Clinton's divisive social agenda: gays in the military, banning assault weapons, funding abortion providers abroad, and of course his opposition to the ban on partial birth abortion turned the South against the Democrats. Not that Clinton should have abandoned his views on those issues, but the volume with which Clinton's White House pushed those social items to gain support for the President among Northeast elites made it very easy for the South to turn against his party.
Race is often cited as a simple reason why the South has turned Republican. No doubt that race has been a factor, but even as late as 1992 the Democrats controlled the majority of congressional seats in the former confederacy. Race was an issue, but not the only issue for Southern white voters. After being wiped out in the 1990s and early 200s the positive message of the nation's first major party African American Presidential nominee has helped elect more Democrats from the South to Congress since the 1992 Election. Obama in fact ran ahead of white Democratic nominees from 2000 and 2004 in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Only in post Katrina ravaged Louisiana, Al Gore's home state of Tennessee and Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas did Obama run worse than Gore and Kerry.
Obama's positive message on economics and unity can play well in the South. Unlike President Clinton, Obama shows no signs of polarizing the nation and thumbing his noses at those who did not support his election. The South may have been lost for a generation of Democrats after Civil Rights, but it seems slowly the South is coming home to its ancestral party.
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