James Cobb looks at the meaning of the election for the South:

" Although the counties that were redder this year than in 2004 are home to a decided minority of the region’s people, some analysts seem to have fixated on places like Cleburne County, Alabama (total vote, 6468) and Itawamba County, Mississippi (total vote, 9265) in pouncing on the 2008 election results as evidence of the South’s ongoing marginalization in national politics and arguing that the Democrats should stop wasting their time on the region in presidential elections. In doing so they seem unable or unwilling to see that the South is no longer, and, for that matter never has been, simply Cleburne or Itawamba writ large. Although they were not necessary for an Obama victory this time, the fifty-five electoral votes the Democrats accumulated in winning Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia might well come in handy in future contests. Moreover, in Georgia where McCain’s final five point margin was much slimmer than once anticipated, the Obama campaign’s belated decision to run ads targeting metro Atlanta, with its large population of white newcomers and African Americans, might have indicated recognition of a lost opportunity and foretold a more formidable effort in that state in 2012.

On the other hand, in the short term, at least, it’s obviously difficult to see the Democrats investing major time or resources campaigning in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, or South Carolina where the electoral payoff is relatively puny and too many white voters’ hard-line attitudes not only on race, but religion and other social issues seem unlikely to soften anytime soon. Likewise, much like the Democrats in the era when they could count on essentially this same category of whites to maintain a “Solid South,” so long as their opponents leave these states uncontested in presidential elections, the Republicans have no particular incentive to pay much attention to them either.

Although the hasty proclamation of southern political irrelevance clearly doesn’t apply to all southern states, both the 2006 and 2008 elections have given reason to suspect that the Republican Party’s strong and sustained tack to the right may have unwittingly marginalized the GOP and left it with a shrunken core of support heavily concentrated in the South. With southerners occupying nearly half of the party’s congressional seats after the 2008 races, political scientist Merle Black suggests the Republicans might have “maxed out on the South” and in the process, ”limited their appeal in the rest of the country.” I’m not fit to carry Merle’s briefcase, but I’m guessing he’d be the first to tell us that the truly substantial evidence needed to evaluate the second half of this proposition won’t be available until about this time in 2012. The real meaning of any election, it seems, is something we can’t even begin to understand until we’ve had the next one."


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