What Next for Southern Democrats?

Tuesday’s elections didn’t work out the way the Democratic party wanted them to. Here in Georgia, Republicans took the Governor and Senate seats by a much wider margin than polls suggested they would. John Barrow lost the 12th District congressional seat to Rick Allen. The GOP held on to its State House Seats. And of course, it was a good night for Republicans across the country. Two likely reasons: Voters expressed their displeasure with the policies of President Barack Obama and, especially in the South, there was a dwindling number of white voters filling a Democratic ballot.

The New York Times today takes a look at what the Democrats might do to rebuild their presence in the South. Here in Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed maintains that the party should be able to take advantage of an increasingly diverse and younger population:

Kasim Reed, the mayor of Atlanta, said he still believed that this was the way forward for Democrats in Georgia.

“We needed to change the electorate,” Mr. Reed said. He faulted the campaigns of Michelle Nunn, who was following in her father’s footsteps in running for the Senate, and Jason Carter, a grandson of Jimmy Carter who was running for governor, for not spending more time and resources to register and turn out what he said were roughly 600,000 unregistered black voters in Georgia, and 200,000 unregistered Latinos.

Yet, increasing the number of African American, Hispanic, and Asian voters may not be enough, especially when exit polls in the Peach State show 42% of Hispanics voted for David Perdue, black voters made up 29% of the electorate, and only 23% of white voters cast a ballot for Michelle Nunn.

“In order to have even a chance to compete, something’s got to change for the Democrats in the South,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic consultant and pollster. “Even with increased African-American and Hispanic participation, it’s simply not a viable situation to struggle to get above the mid-20s with white voters.” Bill Fletcher, a Democratic consultant who was raised in rural Tennessee, agreed that this year’s race was mainly a rejection of Mr. Obama, adding that his presidency had given rise to “a nasty strain of racism that many of us thought and hoped had gone away.”

For their part, Republicans can’t rest on their laurels. President Obama will be out of office in two years, and the GOP will no longer be able to use his image to drive turnout. Similarly, the older, white voters (64% of those over age 65 voted for Perdue) that makes up the GOP base isn’t going to be around forever.

Is it the case that changing demographics are eventually going to guarantee the Peach State turning blue, or will the Republicans figure out a way to broaden its base beyond an aging white men? The answer to that question may well determine the political future of Georgia.

48 comments

  1. Max Power says:

    I hate this talk of changing the electorate, what you need to do is try hard to sell you ideas to everyone. As I said in the Dorothy thread, to poverty in Effingham County is the same as the solution to poverty in Fulton County, education, transportation, and opportunity. Quit waiting for things to change and get out there, engage with people and change their minds.

  2. PegM says:

    I’m not sure Kasim Reed gets it. Running for political office is about ideas, what you as a candidate will bring to the table. It is NOT a voter registration drive. It’s a unique thought, but registration is the responsibility of the individual. Oops…that darned individual responsiblity again!

    • androidguybill says:

      “Oops…that darned individual responsiblity again!”

      Yep. Keep that up. That is EXACTLY the type of talk that gets GOPers elected nationwide (where no GOP candidate has reached 51% since 1988).

    • John Konop says:

      Peg,

      Like it or not Reed has been more fiscally conservative than many in the GOP. He also made tough choices anyway you slice it…Best mayor of Atlanta in the 14 years I have lived here. I am not a democrat, with that said Reed is due his respect.

      • gcp says:

        The Reed record as mayor:

        1. Hundreds of thousands dollars worth of equipment stolen from water dept and subsequent raises to water dept execs
        2. 50% raise to city council members
        3. Hundreds of thousands in vacation payouts to high ranking city officials which Reed initially denied knowing about
        4. 50 million for a streetcar to nowhere which was late and over budget
        5. Paid several times more than what the state paid for gravel during a smowstorm but of course the Atlanta gravel came from a Reed contributor
        6. Airport contracts to Reed campaign contributors

        Just a few items from the record of the “fiscal conservative” Reed

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Reed doesn’t quite have the Best Mayor title locked up with me, but he’s certainly on the trajectory for that to be so.

  3. Mrs. Adam Kornstein says:

    My observation about some of these articles- they are highly contradictory.

    For instance, I’m seeing folks say; Democratic candidates ran from the President and his policies which in turn did not inspire more AA voters to show up AND we weren’t reaching out to so called persuadable white men and women.

    A quick look at a few counties reflects, both are true. Democratic candidates did no better in 2014 than 2010 even with five black females on the ticket AND three white ones with historic names.

    In the end, it will boil down to what it always does-the GOP is much better at the fundamentals of campaigning and message discipline.

    The last time the Democrats won big, it was with the Obama plan and his money to field his army.

    • androidguybill says:

      The last time the Democrats won big it was due to the electorate furious at the Republicans for the economic meltdown and the fiascoes in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the refusal of Republicans to take any responsibility for either (blaming the global economic meltdown on “affirmative action lending policies” for example) was why Obama won re-election in 2012.

      In 2016 the voters will once again be faced with a terrible economic climate, and if Obama uses his executive authority to bypass the other two branches on the illegal immigration issue, that will be almost as bad as Iraq/Afghanistan quagmires.

      But this is just another example of whenever you hear a side constantly talk about “how we just need to turn our base out” you know that side is going to lose.

    • Ed says:

      You and I will recall these same articles were published a decade ago to the day. Then look at what happened in 2006, 2008, 2010…

      As I get old (UGH) it is becoming increasingly clear that each election is an independent event and often the best plans just can’t overcome external factors (as in: the mood of voters). I guess what I’m trying to say is: have some perspective and one election is just one event, everything is in constant flux.

      PS: it always makes me chuckle how partisans will say their side won an election and if they lost, the other side didn’t win, they lost it.

      PPS: Mrs. AK, I waved at you on the highway Wednesday morning.

      • caroline says:

        Yep, you got it right. Every election is going to be about something but you sure cannot tell much ahead of time what it is going to be.

  4. gcp says:

    Interesting to note throughout the entire campaign I can’t recall any photo or appearance of either Nunn or Carter with any of the statewide black candidates. So much for party unity.

  5. androidguybill says:

    The problem with the Democrats: broadening their appeal means betraying their base. They need to become more moderate, but the base not only does not want to move to the right, but they want to move further left. The folks running the DPoG really does dream of being more like the northeast and far west in terms of social and economic policy. (Meanwhile the northeast and far west dream of EU democratic socialism. Which makes you wonder what the Greens in the EU dream of.) So they will just wait until demographics gets them in office. Not realizing that this state is more likely to be Texas (or at least Florida) than California.

    • Jon Lester says:

      It would be a better idea for state Democratic parties to push back against the national leadership before it does any more damage, but as far as I can tell, your characterization is closer to the truth.

      • caroline says:

        They are not worried about the south. Their strategy is to move west. Looking at states like AZ and NV instead of the south. The south is too far behind right now and why bother in a lot of ways when you don’t need them to win a presidential election?

  6. Jon Lester says:

    Too many of the remaining white Democrats haven’t learned that people always remember how you make them feel, which is to say, they’re too quick to call others stupid for voting against the incompetent statists they invariably nominate. That’s no way to repair the brand, let alone rebuild it, especially when younger people are developing increasingly libertarian attitudes.

  7. Andrew C. Pope says:

    What’s that, Kasim? The Democrats needed better turnout among young people and minorities? You don’t say! Hey, wait a second, isn’t your entire electoral base comprised of young people and minorities? Perhaps you should have expanded some actual effort in support of Carter and/or Nunn.

    For the record, I’m not surprised Kasim didn’t lend a hand. If Carter won, Kasim wouldn’t be able to run for governor until 2022. Now, he gets to be the presumed front runner for an open-seat gubernatorial election in 2018. If Nunn had won, he wouldn’t be able to run for that Senate seat until 2026 at the earliest. Sure, he could run against Isakson in 2016, but a one-term Perdue is a much easier opponent than a seasoned incumbent like Johnny.

    Kasim Reed’s number one priority has always been doing what’s best for Kasim Reed, so I’m not surprised he put forth the bare minimum effort on behalf of Carter & Nunn. I do find it rich that he places the blame for low minority and young voter turnout solely on their campaigns and not the fact that he, the reasonably popular mayor of a city chock full of minorities and young people, did little to drive GOTV efforts.

    • bsjy says:

      History suggests that the Atlanta mayorship represents a peak achievement for the politician who wins the post. Yet every Atlanta Mayor thinks he is still on the way up after his terms end. Andy Young, Maynard, the convict, the blond black woman, and now Kasim Reed. Some were better than others as mayor, but none did much of anything greater after being our mayor. Maybe Kasim can break the trend. Maybe it’s the airport, which is like krypotonite to the local pols.

  8. saltycracker says:

    ““a nasty strain of racism that many of us thought and hoped had gone away.”
    Bill Fletcher, a Democratic consultant

    So what does he call the minorities that voted (R) or stayed home to avoid the shunning ?

    As we say to nitwits in the South “Here’s your sign”

    Time for both parties to revisit a filtration system/ gleaning process to arrive at a county, state, national platform to determine just what they want the government to do, taxation, debt control, healthcare, military, infrastructure, enforcement…..

    To allow minority factions, race, religion, age, sex or whatever to filter out large numbers in a two party system is defining risk levels of membership. They are not going to get everyone around the community table agreeing, “that’s fair”. And too be all-inclusive is chaos and makes for a lousy community.

    • Harry says:

      Stacey Abrams? I think Kasim can do quite well, and things will fall his way if he promotes sound policy.

      • gcp says:

        The only way Reed gets elected statewide is if voters ignore his record as mayor. If voters consider his record as mayor, any republican beats him.

        As for Abrams, her silliness with the voting registration and her light legislative record make it difficult for her to get elected statewide.

        I am not sure where the dems go statewide other than just waiting for demographics to change or finding a local candidate with an acceptable record.

        • Andrew C. Pope says:

          What legislative record do you expect a Democrat to have when Republicans make up such a sizable majority of the legislature? Not calling you out, but I don’t think you can expect any Dem to come to the table with a laundry list of legislative accomplishments.

          • gcp says:

            Perhaps some proposals? The only thing I hear of Abrams is that she was for T-SPOST but when asked about moving away from income tax towards a consumption tax she said “no” because she did not want to “tax living”.

            • Andrew C. Pope says:

              She was pretty vocal on the immigration bill. I think most Democrats have figured even proposals are wastes of time. Heck, Doug McKillip switched parties because he didn’t think he could get some bill about bicycles passed with a D next to his name.

  9. John Konop says:

    …….Is it the case that changing demographics are eventually going to guarantee the Peach State turning blue, or will the Republicans figure out a way to broaden its base beyond an aging white men? The answer to that question may well determine the political future of Georgia…

    Well said! The writing is on the wall…..in 2 cycles going from 18% wins to 7% is not the right trend…Sometimes the hardest thing to do is looking in the mirror….especially as you get older…

    • saltycracker says:

      The chasing of demographic changes by promising we will spend more on each of you and keep you in a subsistence life is not the course for the GOP vs we do more in the community (education, roads and other infrastructure) reduce public debt and reduce taxes burdens on the wage earners. The GOP has to do more by opening the doors of opportunity, reducing corrupt bureaucratic empires ( like ones they ran from), let them keep more of what they earn, keep others off their butts, make them safe, treat all equally, insure safety nets for the truly needy or ill, enforce the laws…….you get the idea

  10. rosco says:

    A buddy of mine is the former county chair of the Democratic party and is still active in the party. He told me that he thinks the Democrats would have done better here in Georgia this year if they had had an African-American in one of the top races (governor, senator). From his experience with the 2008 and 2012 campaign, having an African-American in a top race (e.g. Obama in the past) brings out a larger African-American turnout, who in turn also vote for Democrats down the ballot in other races as well.

    This struck me as sad at first. However, upon further reflection, it makes sense. African-Americans are crucial to the prospects of the Democratic party. If all they run in top races are white folks, it basically means that African-Americans get to carry the water for the party, but don’t get much in return. Of course, the same is often true for social conservatives in the Republican party who are the voting foot soldiers for the GOP, yet often get little in return for their efforts, especially compared to what business interests get.

    All of this is to say that for all the criticism of Kasim Reed (and agree with others that Deal has bigger skeletons in his closet), who else to the Democrats have to run four years from now? At the moment, Reed is hands down the best they’ve got for the next election for either governor or senator.

  11. SallyForth says:

    rosco, that first paragraph you wrote made my head spin around. It is so true that blacks vote black, won’t turn out in large numbers for a white candidate, but it’s not often (if ever) publicly acknowledged. Given a choice of candidates, the black person gets the vote every time, even when it is a publicly acknowledged less-qualified or corrupt politician. Skin color trumps everything else in our A-A community.

    Isn’t it about time that everyone publicly acknowledge that reverse racism definitely exists? And that white people do not have any power to change that. It’s sort of like alcoholism – only by admitting it exists can anyone identify a starting point for possible solutions. Methinks some level-headed black politician should focus on this huge elephant in the room (pardon the pun), instead of pretending that voter registration will fix things.

    • Harry says:

      White Republicans in Georgia seem to have the same problem with black GOP nominees. Some in both parties have moved past this, but only some.

      • SallyForth says:

        Yes, Harry, I’m sure we will always have some people of all hues who stick to their own color candidates. But now that the Dems are focusing so heavily on the black vote and seem to be dependent on that block of votes, seems to me they have a stronger reason to face the existence of reverse racism and figure out what to do about it. None of the white pols can touch it with a 10 ft. pole, so the onus is on black Dems to address this problem within their own community. I’m just sick of hearing the “voter registration” mantra — that accomplishes nothing if they don’t vote.

  12. rosco says:

    SallyForth,

    Well, to tell you the truth, to a small degree I can sympathize with blacks voting black. Mind you, I don’t sympathize with voting for someone solely because they are the same race as you. However, since African-Americans are such a key part of the Democratic party’s base in Georgia, what does it say when neither of the top candidates in the race for governor or senator was African-American? To me, it might signal to some African-Americans that the Democrats take them for granted. In that case, why bother voting?

    • SallyForth says:

      Nah, rosco, it was a money thing, not a color thing. What it signaled was that the Dems, as the out-of-power party in Georgia, did not have the money nor the ability to raise enough money for competitive campaigns for candidates from the bench, whether black or white. No other potential candidates of any color could have even come close to the Republicans’ war chest. Carter and Nunn were exceptions. His grandfather and her dad had unique fundraising connections, and the two quality, genuine candidates drew national attention. They both catered to the black community and had the support of every black elected official in Georgia. But with all that, they still lost due to lack of turn- out by you-know-who. There really is no excuse.

      And about 2008 and 2012, they voted for Obama and walked out, did not vote for Georgia candidates. Just ask Jim Martin and the rest how good that felt.

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