After affixing his signature to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Lyndon Johnson famously quipped that he’d just signed away the South, a prophecy that was affirmed in that year’s election – when Republican Barry Goldwater won five historically Democratic states in the deep South while suffering blowout losses everywhere else – and in elections for decades to come.
In the post-Civil Rights era, Democrats were told over and over that their path to the presidency was basic: Nominate a candidate who could win back the South, or at least part of it. And sure enough, for 40 years after L.B.J., the only victorious Democrats at the presidential level, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were southerners, while one northern liberal after another was shut out in the region – and locked out of the White House. If Al Gore, a native Tennessean who’d drifted from his roots, had simply won his home state or any other state in the region, he would have been elected president in 2000.
But then something funny happened last week: A liberal Democrat from Chicago, running on a ticket with a liberal from Delaware, won the White House by a comfortable margin. And while Barack Obama did actually win three states in the South, his triumph should do away with the notion that a “Southern strategy” is essential to the Democratic Party’s long-term viability at the presidential level.
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