Road to Realignment

Kirk Victor has an intriguing piece in National Journal about the distinct possibility that the Republicans will “run the table” by winning all five open Senate seats vacated by Democrats in the South. The betting by conservatives is that they will be able to nationalize the race in a way that wasn’t possible with old timers like Fritz Hollings holding down seats.

This year’s Democratic Senate candidates have obviously already decided that, if they are to remain competitive, they must show independence from their national party. They are not about to allow themselves to be labeled as being outside the South’s mainstream.

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Merle Black said that he “was struck by what I was reading about Inez Tenenbaum,” the Democratic Senate nominee in South Carolina. “She seems to be going out of her way to emphasize conservative positions that she is taking. She is with Bush on Iraq. She is with Bush on family and [gay] marriage. I can’t remember a Democratic candidate who kicked off a campaign that way.”

And in Louisiana, the Democratic Party establishment’s favorite candidate for the seat that Sen. John Breaux is vacating parts company with Kerry on a range of social issues. Chris John supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, is staunchly anti-abortion, and backs drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His voting record on gun issues has earned top grades from the National Rifle Association.

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Republican Sen. Graham of South Carolina insists that Tenenbaum’s effort to distance herself from national Democrats is pointless. “She is a nice person, but let me tell you, Bush is going to win our state by double digits, and we are going to nationalize this [Senate] race,” he said. “It is not about her view of the world. It is about the view of the world of the party she is supporting. If she wins, then the chance of Ted Kennedy becoming [a committee] chairman is real. If we pick up the seat, the chance of Ted Kennedy becoming chairman is less likely…. If you like President Bush, you think he is doing a good job, and you want him to stay as president, then the best thing you can do is to send somebody up to the Senate to help me help him.”

This strikes me as quite plausible. I t has now been a generation since the days of the Solid South for Democrats. More importantly, there are few Zell Millers–popular conservative Democratic governors–from which to draw competitive Senate candidates.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.