Periodically, someone says that the Democratic Party should pay more attention to the South. Amanda has just claimed that it should have “more people with noticeable Southern accents advocating progressive politics, if only to undermine the tribalism that makes white Southerners feel that Republican is an immoveable part of their identity.”
So let me be slightly contrarian and say that the Democratic Party should pay more attention to the North. Gore and Kerry’s sweep of every state north of the Potomac, except for one defeat in New Hampshire, has caused a lot of liberals to think the entire Northeast is like Massachusetts. In fact, Pennsylvania is a swing state, New Jersey’s Congressional delegation moved from 7-6 Republican to 7-6 Democratic in 2006, and Connecticut’s median voter is a Lieberman Democrat.
The sort of rhetoric that will get moderate Northerners to vote for you is the opposite of the rhetoric that will get moderate Southerners behind you. New Jersey and Connecticut are the richest states in the union, and have endless suburbs populated with fairly moderate people who would easily vote for a Giuliani over an Edwards. What plays to the middle class here is general appeals to realism, social liberalism, and promises to do concrete things for the middle class. Edwards’ class warfare rhetoric could just as well come from a memo entitled, “How to redden New Jersey.”
In the South, of course, that doesn’t play. Southern moderates want to hear you tell them about how much you love God, hate gays and atheists and foreigners, and will give poor people jobs. The Deep South has a lot of areas where pro-choicers are less electable than Klansmen. Edwards is appealing to those moderates by talking about poverty and health care to the exclusion of everything else, even though poverty and health care tend to be the issues that a President can do the least about.
Bush gave the Democrats a historic opportunity to lock the Northeast. He lost suburban counties that his father won in 1992 despite losing the general election, such as Fairfield, Connecticut (population 900 thousand); Bergen, New Jersey (900 thousand); and Suffolk, New York (1.5 million). This is both due to a general bluening of the Northeastern suburbs and Bush’s Southernness.
In 2006, the Democrats did in fact sweep the Northeast, which was overrepresented in House seats that switched from Republican to Democratic by a factor of 2. In 2008 they’ll have an opportunity to make the Northeast unassailable. It’ll be somewhat hard if Giuliani wins the nomination, which he probably will, but a Clinton/Giuliani showdown about abortion will probably ensure that no Republican can win an election in the Northeast for another generation. And given that the Republicans have five Northern Senators, this won’t bode well for them.
Make no mistake about it: locking New Jersey and hopefully Pennsylvania with Giuliani in the race probably entails conceding every ex-Confederate state but Florida and maybe Virginia. That’s perfectly acceptable; the Democrats can similarly lock the Southwest by putting the Republicans on the wrong side of public opinion on immigration, and thence launch incursions into Ohio, Colorado, and Florida.
What this demonstrates is that the perennial advice for the Democrats to ditch social liberalism is not a good idea. The Southwest is home to the only state to have rejected a gay marriage ban; the Northeast is home to the most pro-choice regions of the US. Winning swing Midwestern states like Michigan and Ohio requires economic populism, but the sort of populism that plays in those states involves more traditional emphases on unions and welfare than in the South, making it less likely to piss off moderates in New Jersey.
In 2008, the Republicans are not going to nominate a Texan. Their frontrunner is a New Yorker; their second most popular candidate is an Arizonan. It’s going to be hard enough already to get any political capital from immigration, on which issue Giuliani and McCain are both fairly liberal. In New Jersey and Connecticut (though not so much Pennsylvania) the Democrats win elections due to social issues and a few economic ones on which there’s a liberal consensus; pissing matches about taxes like the one Edwards is gearing toward are entirely counterproductive.