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"Go Southwest, Young Man."

Democrats should ignore the South in 2004; they aren't going to win it anyway, and they can win without it, according to UMBC political science professor Thomas Schaller.

Essentially, the logic goes that Gore almost beat Bush without the South anyway, so all the 2004 Democratic nominee needs to do is hold onto Gore's victories and then pick up a few more electoral votes. Schaller's theory is that the Southwest is ripe for a Democratic pickup, primarily because of the Hispanic influx in recent years. So to those states add New England, the Pacific states, and parts of the Rust Belt, and the Democrats win without any victories in the South.

There are a few flaws in Schaller's argument; the most obvious ones are these:

  • The main basis for the thought that the Southwest is up for grabs is that Schaller's standard of comparison is Mike Dukakis. But doing better than Dukakis (or Mondale, Carter, and McGovern) is hardly evidence that the Democratic Party, as a party, is picking up ground in these states.
  • If the Democrats write off the South, this frees up the Republicans to concentrate their attention in competitive states elsewhere. And it's not as if Democrats have a lock on all these other areas; Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin all went Democratic by very small margins. If Bush, who is already likely to have a financial advantage, is free to pour resources into these states, the Democratic nominee is in real trouble. And that doesn't even count California, where Arnold's election throws the whole dynamic out of whack.
Of course, much depends on Ralph Nader; if Nader doesn't run, and/or if the Democratic nominee -- let's call him "Howard Dean" -- picks up Nader's votes without losing any in the center, then he can win without having to make gains elsewhere; both Florida and New Hampshire could have swung Democratic in 2000 if Gore had had Nader's votes.

Ultimately, it seems somewhat pointless to try to make these sorts of projections now, when so much depends on what the economy is doing in fall 2004. If the jobs picture continues to be mediocre, Bush is vulnerable; if the economy is in full recovery, Democrats aren't going to win in the South, North, East, or West.


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Comments (2)


Can you define "full recovery" so readers can hold you accountable.

I can frankly imagine lots of "full recovery" scenarios that still mean Bush loses 175 electoral votes (the entire west coast, most of the northeast).

I suspect this election is going to turn more than any other in memory on security politics. The Bush team played that hand and won the Senate in 2002, but either Bush or Clark add a dramatically different perspective on that previous debate.

Not to mention the lack of WMD...

Full recovery? Let's say that the unemployment rate is back down 2%, where it was when Bush took office. If that happens, Bush wins huge. I'm not saying 50 states, but I'm saying huge, at least as big as Bush 1 in 1988.

(And the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court didn't do the Democrats any favors today.)

As for your other point,
1) I think foreign policy will play a key role (unlike in 1992-1996), but I think one's memory would have to be quite short to say that it will turn more "than any other in memory" on security issues.
2) Clark? I doubt he is going anywhere in the Democratic primaries.
3) Even if he does, I think that (as with Cleland) Democrats are trying to substitute a resume for a candidate. (Clark's far more egregious than Cleland; he hasn't thought through his position on any issues -- even foreign policy.) I think that while deaths in Iraq hurt Bush, the WMD thing simply doesn't matter. It matters with hardcore Democrats, but those people weren't going to vote for Bush anyway.


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