November 4, 2006


How Democrats Can Win Without the South (Thomas Schaller, November 4, 2006, In These Times)

The 1920 elections were a Democratic disaster. Dissatisfaction with Woodrow Wilson created an electoral avalanche that would be nearly impossible in today's era of highly gerrymandered districts and overwhelming incumbent advantages. Republicans picked up 10 new senators and 62 representatives, giving the GOP 61 of 98 Senate seats and a whopping House majority with 302 seats. The resulting 67th Congress mirrored the regional alignment of the two parties, with no Republican senators and just a handful of House members coming from the 11 states of the former Confederacy. Despite their chokehold on the South, the Democrats were a regionally confined party that found little support elsewhere in the country.

It was an era in American politics when presidential and congressional results aligned regionally in ways that have been decidedly misaligned since the collapse of the New Deal in the late '60s.

But regionalized partisanship is beginning to emerge anew. Republicans won every southern state in the past two presidential elections and now have 18 of the region's 22 senators and two-thirds of its House seats. In 2004, despite Bush's two-and-a-half-point defeat of John Kerry, outside the South the Democrats actually gained congressional seats in both chambers. That's right: If the five House seats produced by the re-redistricting of Texas orchestrated by former majority leader Tom DeLay and the five Senate pickups made possible by those southern Democratic retirements are held aside, the Democrats won the 2004 congressional elections.

Four-D Democrats

Today, the Democrats cannot swing enough seats in the near or medium term to invert the electoral maps of the late 19th and early 20th centuries--that is, to confine Republicans solely to their new, southern dominion. Nor would they want to: Democrats will never be shut out of the South the way Republicans once were because there will always be a certain number of districts in the South where African Americans and Hispanics make up the majority. What Democrats can do, however, is accelerate the regional transformation already underway in the quadrant of the northeastern and midwestern states formed by connecting Dover, New Hampshire, and Dover, Delaware, to the east, with Des Moines, Iowa, and Duluth, Minnesota, to the west.

Call it the "Four-D Rectangle."

What Mr. Schaller proposes here is that Democrats make a last stand in the most European portion of the country, one that with its corresponding industrial and population decline will likely be taken over by immigrants -- Latinos in our case rather than Muslims in the European -- which will cause it to swing back to the Right over time but will cost it congressional seats and electoral votes in the meantime. The reality is that Democrats need to invest all their energy in finding twenty-one states where they can hold both Senate seats so they can filibuster the most significant least until the GOP changes the Senate rules.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 4, 2006 8:15 AM

Schaller's congressional startegy only has a chance of working at tims when the Democrats are out of power, and voters' memories fade about the actions they took the least time they did have control of the legislative branch. While there may be certain states like Massachusetts or New Jersey who'll keep sending a John Kerry back to Washington or elect a Bob Menendez no matter what the odds are ofhim actually serving out his full term, in the other states, voters are likely to recoil from the party's policies once they get a chance to try and put them into practice, and the gains made due to anger over Republican failings will be reversed.

Posted by: John at November 4, 2006 8:45 AM