Breaking the southern mould (8 November 2006)
For the first time since the early 1950s the majority party in the House of Representatives will be the minority party in the south.
The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives elected in 2006 will be a historic turning point. For the first time since the early 1950s the majority party in the House will be the minority party in the south.
In the five deep south states (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina) the Republicans still dominate with 23 seats to 12 Democrats and two still counting razor’s-edge margins. No seats went from Republican to Democrat, and the two toss-up seats were both defended by Democrat incumbents in Georgia. Taking the south and border states up to Virginia and Missouri, the Republicans still lead 79 to 50, not counting the two Georgia undecided seats. The Democrats have only gained five seats in the extended region, and two of them in rather special circumstances (in TX-22 and FL-16 discredited Republican incumbents Tom DeLay and Mark Foley stayed on the ballot despite being replaced as candidates). There were clear gains only in a heavily Democrat-leaning Florida district (expatriated north-easterners) and one each in Kentucky and North Carolina.
The bulk of the Democrats’ gains came in the north-east, where the results in some seats were startling – the party swept both New Hampshire seats, including NH-1 where they had mounted only the most rudimentary campaign. Pennsylvania may well contribute more net gains than the whole of the south. In the process – and some results are still agonisingly close – they have knocked out many of the endangered species that is the Republican moderate, such as Nancy Johnson in Connecticut and Jim Leach – apparently – in Iowa.
The 2006 revolution may be the Democrats’ answer to the 1994 election, which completed the south’s Republican realignment. Many of the surviving Republicans in the north-east are defending very narrow majorities and their incumbents may decide to call it a day now that the party is in the minority – opening up more seats for the Democrats in 2008 just as happened in reverse in the south in 1994-96. As in Presidential elections, two solid blocs of Democrat blue in the north-east and Republican red in the south will face each other. The contested areas will be elsewhere, in the Mountain west, the south-west and the upper mid-west.
2006 may therefore be the beginning of the end of the American political world’s obeisance to the south, which after all is only one region among several in the country. It is now, in general, loyal to any Republican no matter how extreme or unsatisfactory (even in borderland Virginia, George Allen is in recount territory for the Senate seat). I have never understood why “Massachusetts liberal” seems to be an acceptable term of abuse while “Texas conservative” (which to me summons up an image of cronyism, arrogance and being bought by big business interests) is not. If the new House (and the still-to-be decided Senate) owe the south no favours, that really will be a radical change in the way politics is done.