'Solid South' No Longer Just All-red Or All-blue
ATLANTA (AP) â The "Solid South" was a political fact, benefiting Democrats for generations and then Republicans, with Bible Belt and racial politics ruling the day.
But demographic changes and recent election results reveal a more nuanced landscape now as the two major parties prepare for their national conventions. Republicans will convene Aug. 27 in Florida, well established as a melting-pot battleground state, to nominate Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Democrats will toast President Barack Obama the following week in North Carolina, the perfect example of a Southern electorate not so easily pigeon-holed.
Obama won both states and Virginia four years ago, propelled by young voters, nonwhites and suburban independents. Virginia, long a two-party state in down-ballot races, had not sided with Democrats on the presidency since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Jimmy Carter in 1976 had been the last Democratic nominee to win North Carolina. Each state is in play again, with Romney needing to reclaim Florida and at least one of the others to reach the White House.
Southern strategists and politicians say results will turn again this year on which party and candidates understand changing demographics and voter priorities.
"The transformation of the South seems to never end," said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic campaign consultant with deep experience in Virginia and federal elections. "Now it's beginning to emerge, at least parts of it, as solidly purple."
New citizens, birth rates, and migration patterns of native-born Americans make high-growth areas less white, less conservative or both. There is increasing urban concentration in many areas. African-American families are moving back to the South after generations in Chicago, New York or other northern cities.
Young religious voters are less likely than their parents to align with Republicans on abortion and same-sex unions. Younger voters generally are up for grabs on fundamental questions like the role of the federal government in the marketplace.
"I wouldn't say the South is any more ideologically rigid than anywhere else in the country. Certainly, it's complicated," said former Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee. Bredesen, a Democrat, won twice while Republican George W. Bush occupied the White House. Before that, Bredesen was a two-term mayor of Nashville.