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Dem Nominee Will Have To Fight Hard For The South

Regardless of whom the Democratic Party selects as its nominee for President this year, one thing is for certain: He’ll have to fight hard to gain ground against Bush in the South.

As a guest columnist on Salon.com last week, Bill Maher noted:

“North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has a powerful argument in his bid to be the Democratic nominee when he says, ‘What I give people is a candidate who can win everywhere in America.’”

Given that the South is first, Bush's home territory and second, America's Bible Belt, any Democratic nominee--Edwards included--will face an uphill battle in the region. Not to mention the fact that Texas, with its sizeable quantity of electoral votes, is firmly cemented in the former Texas Governor's column.

Regrettably, as Laura Houston pointed out on MSNBC.com, voting Republican has, for many in the South, become a matter of faith.

She notes the following about a recent trip to Ole Miss:

"Most of the time, these students' faith in Christ translates into faith in George W. Bush. When I went looking for Democrats at campus bible studies, most students just laughed in my face. Some squirmed at my question. A few clever ones pointed fingers unsuspecting friends, calling them 'Democrats' as though membership in the party were some kind of unpopular disease."

While Houston was speaking mainly of students, much the same appears to be true for the GOP throughout the South. Sure, the Democratic Party fares well at the local level in some areas and even at the state level in some Southern states, though not in Texas.

But, many of the voters marking Democratic candidates at the local level tend to shy away from doing so at the national level mostly because of a few key issues and an ill-based belief that the Republican Party and its candidates mirror more closely the moral Christian lives they hear preached about in church every Sunday.

No matter who ends up with the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, he'll have trouble in the South overcoming the ultra-conservative attitude many Christians in the area have which by definition means they won't vote for a candidate who is pro-choice and that they're more likely to vote for Bush, who, as Houston notes, makes frequent use of "religious language" in his speeches and openly practices his religion.

Most Democrats who aspire for the nomination are, on the other hand, less open (or rather proselytizing) about their Christian faith, and don't share Bush's vision for "faith-based initiatives," which has no doubt won him many friends in the religious Deep South. Democrats, rather, have worked for decades to keep government out of the business of religion and vice versa, giving many in the South the incorrect impression that Democrats simply aren't as religious or faithful as some of their Republican counterparts.

An additional handicap for a Democratic presidential candidate is that so many churches in the South don't mind getting wrapped up in the political process. Although they endanger their tax status by doing so, many churches in the South don't think twice about distributing the Christian Coalition's voter guides, most of which support GOP candidates. And, as Pat Robertson proved several weeks ago, pastors and preachers don't seem to mind offering voting advice from the pulpit.

Robertson (who is, of course, affiliated with the Christian Coalition), in fact, went so far as to note:

"It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."

Such an endorsment obviously won't hurt Bush among religious voters in the South, where, Houston notes, Bush's biggest advantage "may lie in the almost iconic images of his own Christian faith."

Aside from the "whys" and "hows" that seem to put much of the South in Bush's column, whoever the Democratic nominee is will have to work hard in the South. The South can't be written off, as Houston suggested Kerry was planning to do:

"Considering these advantages it's no wonder that John Kerry has hinted he won't fight too hard for the South."

Democrats can win in the South if they simply show the voters that they will truly benefit more from policies, laws, and other issues as such would be handled by a Democratic administration than they have under the current or any Republican administration.

Posted by at February 16, 2004 8:47 PM