Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Key that Unlocks the White House Door

In 1968 Richard Nixon rode his "southern strategy" into the White House. In 1976 Jimmy Carter rallied the South to win the nomination and then the election. In 1980 Ronald Reagan began his campaign in the South, in Mississippi. In 1988 George H.W. Bush carried the South against Michael Dukakis. In 1992 Bill Clinton chose a fellow southerner, Al Gore, to help him win the South. In 2000 George W. Bush captured the South on the way to the White House.

Who will win the South in 2008? That's the key that unlocks the White House door.

Today's political pundits pontificate about Super Tuesday and the remaining primaries and caucuses. They praise Obama for his rhetorical skill and puzzle over McCain's resurrection from the dead. They agonize about Romney's fizzled campaign, and Clinton's lost momentum. They wonder why Huckabee's evangelical horse faltered and why Edwards' populist appeal never got out of the starting gate. All of that is interesting, but it misses the point.

Who -- Democrats or Republicans -- will nominate a ticket and draft a platform that appeals to the South? That's the vital question.

Why is the South important? James Carville would put it this way: "It's the Electoral College, stupid." Which region of the country casts the most Electoral College votes? Here it is.
  • 189 South
  • 124 Midwest
  • 101 Northeast
  • 80 West
  • 44 Mountain States
Because 270 Electoral votes unlocks the White House door, the party that wins the South has a head start in the race to turn the key. As the most homogenous region of the country, southerners generally reflect conservative cultural, economic, political, social and religious instincts. So the party that nominates a ticket and drafts a platform appealing to the South can expect to win the favor of the South's homogeneity.
  • Why did Richard Nixon adopt some of George C. Wallace's ideas?
  • Why did Jimmy Carter campaign against Washington and big government?
  • Why did Ronald Reagan appeal to states' rights?
  • Why did George H.W. Bush advocate a strong military?
  • Why did Bill Clinton choose a fellow Southern Baptist as his running mate?
  • Why did George W. Bush advocate compassionate conservatism?
In each instance the winning candidates in various ways testified to their religious faith. For example, Richard Nixon associated with various evangelical leaders, such as Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter spoke of being "born again," Ronald Reagan testified not only of his faith in Christ, but also of his belief in the Genesis account of creation, George H.W. Bush gave a personal testimony of his faith in Christ, Bill Clinton regularly used biblical language and imagery, and George W. Bush spoke of trusting Christ as Savior.

So the important questions become:

  • If either Barak Obama (Illinois) or Hillary Clinton (New York) heads the Democratic ticket, who could balance the ticket with a southern appeal?
  • If either John McCain (Arizona) or Mitt Romney (Massachusetts) heads the Republican ticket, who could balance the ticket by providing a southern appeal?
  • What should the parties have in their platforms that would appeal to the South?
Those are the key questions to answer in deciding which party has "The Key that Unlocks the White House Door."


C.L. Wilson said...

Dr. Dunn,

I loved this post and shared it with my entire team. I wanted to suggest one way to make it more interactive. Consider hyperlinking the red text items to outside source materials. Just a thought.


Christy Lynn Wilson

mattkys said...

Dr. Dunn
It looks like Huckabee is auditioning for the VP nomination of McCain, what do you think? With his victories in the South yesterday and sure relationship with the Conservative vote, it looks like it would be a good choice.

In your opinion, what can be done for either Obama or Clinton in the South?

Sean Francis said...

I believe your statement that Nixon rode his "southern strategy" to the White House to be disingenuous at best, because he barely eked out George Wallace.

Of the 16 southern states Nixon carried nine-Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, N. Carolina, Oklahoma, S. Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia.

Gov. Wallace carried five states Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, while Vice President Humphrey carried two states; Maryland and Texas.

The only thing Nixon rode in the 1968 presidential election, was a streak of luck, which resulted in a victory on November 2.