Lessons of Election 2007: The South is a'changin'
Election 2007 is now behind us -- no contested elections! -- and following up on R. Neal's post yesterday, this year's election cycle revealed some interesting trends as we head into the big enchilada of 2008.
One of the biggest was Rep. Bobby Jindal's decisive gubernatorial victory in Louisiana. Democratic control of the Louisiana governor's mansion was the second political casualty of Katrina -- as Chris Cizzilla at "The Fix" noted in 2006, Republican control of Congress was the first. A big part of Jindal's victory for the GOP can be attributed to Gov. Kathleen Blanco's declining fortunes post-Katrina, as well as the failure of Democrats to field a solid opponent.
But it also points to a larger trend in Louisiana, which has been hastened by the removal of thousands of largely Democratic voters from the state the shift of a once-battleground state into a Republican state. As Cizzilla noted recently:
There is one more tangible development from Jindal's win -- albeit distinct to Louisiana. Senate Republicans are likely to be even more gung ho about their chances of defeating Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in 2008. With the governor's race no longer dominating the political landscape, attention will turn to the race between Landrieu and state Treasurer John Kennedy, (R) who was reelected without opposition yesterday.
Recent electoral history should worry Landrieu. In the last two hotly contested statewide elections (governor in 2007, Senate in 2004), Republicans won without even a runoff. The state is clearly shifting demographically in Republicans' favor, a process that sped up following Katrina.
What makes this especially interesting is that, along with Gov. Haley Barbour's easy re-election in Mississippi this week, it appears Democrats on the coast have been completely unable to turn the failed Katrina recovery into an issue for their advantage -- despite the fact that, as we have shown, much of the cause can be attributed to failures in President Bush's leadership at the federal level.
On the flipside, Democratic victories in border states -- governor in Kentucky, the legislature in Virginia -- show that parts of the South are still very much up for grabs. This, combined with the GOP's lack of a clear presidential candidate with strong Southern appeal -- the top three candidates are running neck-and-neck in South Carolina, with no clear favorite -- is boosting hopes among Democrats of Senate and even Presidential-level wins in the South.
As we have argued before, the South is on the cusp of dramatic changes -- demographic, economic, political -- that will redraw the political map of the region over the next generation. They won't be fully realized by Election 2008, but Election 2007 already gives us a taste of what's in store.
The fight for the already-purple South is going to heat up -- and soon.
Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.