Should Democrats dump Dixie?

By Robert Mann

The questions were inevitable after U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s downfall sounded a sad coda for the Democrats’ already sagging fortunes in the midterm elections: Is the Democratic Party dead in the South? Should they give up on the region?

There are no Democrats left in the U.S. Senate from the Deep South and nary a white Democrat in the U.S. House from the region. “Today, nearly all of the Democrats holding federal or statewide office in the South will represent so-called ‘majority-minority’ districts or areas with a large number of new residents from outside the region,” journalist Nate Cohn wrote in The New York Times earlier this month. “In the states of the former Confederacy, Democrats will control Senate seats or governors’ mansions only in Virginia and Florida.”

What a stunning reversal, particularly in Louisiana. Ten years ago, Democrats were thriving. Landrieu was in her second Senate term and on her way to a third. Our governor was a Democrat, as was every statewide elected officeholder but the secretary of state. Democrats controlled the Legislature.

Now, every statewide elected official is a Republican. Cedric Richmond, representing the majority-black district that stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, is the state’s only Democrat in Congress.

In 2004, 55 percent of the state’s registered voters were Democrats. That tumbled to only 46 percent last month. In the last 10 years, 225,000 white voters have abandoned the Democratic Party. Republicans and independents are now 54 percent of the state’s electorate.

Surveying the midterm carnage, in Louisiana and throughout in the Deep South, it’s difficult to see Democrats returning to power soon. Indeed, some despondent liberals advise dumping Dixie altogether. “Forget about the whole fetid place,” journalist Michael Tomasky wrote in the Daily Beast. “Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise.”

To liberals like Tomasky, abetting Southern Democrats extracted too high a cost and forced the party to compromise its principles.

“It’s gone,” he wrote of the region. “A different country … If [Democrats] get no votes from the region, they will in turn owe it nothing, and in time the South, which is the biggest welfare moocher in the world in terms of the largesse it gets from the more advanced and innovative states, will be on its own, which is what Southerners always say they want anyway.”

While Tomasky’s bitter words might appeal to some Democrats, his advice is reckless.

For starters, while the Democratic Party appears dead, the rumors of its demise are exaggerated. In the United States, political parties are almost always adept at reinventing themselves.

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