Southern Dems Urge Return to Basics 11/28 06:28
ATLANTA (AP) -- Southern Democrats are joining others in the party who say
that a return to advocating to lift people out of economic hardship and
emphasizing spending on education and public works will re-energize black
voters and attract whites as well.
"It's time to draw a line in the sand and not surrender our brand," Rickey
Cole, the party chairman in Mississippi, said. He believes candidates have
distanced themselves from the past half-century of Democratic principles.
"We don't need a New Coke formula," Cole said. "The problem is we've been
out there trying to peddle Tab and RC Cola."
Cole and other Southern Democrats acknowledge divisions with prominent
populists such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president
in 2016, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Yet they see merit in pushing
stronger voting rights laws, tighter bank regulation, labor-friendly policies
such as a higher minimum wage and other familiar party themes.
Democratic politics have become a tough sell in the conservative South. A
major challenge in the region is finding candidates who can win high-profile
races now that Republicans, who scored well in midterm elections earlier this
month, dominate the leadership in state legislatures and across statewide
Georgia Democrats thought legacy candidates were the answer. But Senate
hopeful Michelle Nunn, former Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter, and gubernatorial
challenger Jason Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's grandson, each fell
short by about 8 percentage points despite well-funded campaigns and ambitious
Arkansas Democrats lost an open governor's seat and two-term Sen. Mark
Pryor. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu led an eight-candidate primary but faces
steep odds in a Dec. 6 runoff. Democrats' closest statewide loss in the South
was North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan's 1.7 percentage point margin of defeat.
Exit polling suggests Democrats did not get the black turnout they needed
and lost badly among whites. Nunn and Carter got fewer than 1 in 4 white votes,
while Pryor took 31 percent and Landrieu 18 percent.
Should Landrieu lose, Democrats will be left without a single governor, U.S.
senator or legislative chamber under their control from the Carolinas westward
J.P. Morrell, a state senator from New Orleans, faulted a muddled message
that began with candidates avoiding President Barack Obama. "You have to
articulate why the economic policies we advocate as Democrats actually benefit
people on the ground," Morrell said.
In Georgia, Nunn supported a minimum-wage increase and gender-pay equity,
but her television ads focused on ending partisan rancor. Carter mostly accused
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of shortchanging public education. Nunn and Carter
supported Medicaid expansion under Obama's health overhaul, but neither
emphasized that argument in television advertising.
"No real economic message got through," said Vincent Fort, a state senator
Georgia's Democratic chairman, DuBose Porter, defended Carter and Nunn as
"world-class candidates" who can run again. He said Democrats "proved Georgia
can be competitive in 2016," but he cautioned against looking for a nominee
other than Clinton. "She puts us in play," he said.
In an interview, Carter focused more on tactics than on broad messaging,
saying the party must register minority voters and continue outreach to whites.
"If 120,000 people change their mind in this election, it comes out
differently," he said. "But it takes a lot of time to build those
relationships. ... You can't expect it to happen in one year."
Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist and commentator in North Carolina, said
Hagan's margin in a GOP wave offers hope for 2016, when statewide executive
offices will be on the ballot. Fresh arguments, he said, "will have to come
from younger Democrats in the cities." He pointed to several young Democratic
candidates who won county commission seats in Wake County, home to Raleigh.