The want ad might look something like this: “Seeking a fiery, pro-business, pro-gun, anti-abortion-rights Southern Democrat to run for Congress in a substantially Republican district against a GOP incumbent. A potent populist message is a big plus. Candidates with strong ties to Washington and/or President Barack Obama need not apply.”
For House Democrats to make any headway in winning back seats in the South — and taking back Congress this cycle — they’ll need some responses, and soon.
But even with the best candidates, Democrats face a steep uphill battle in winning back any seats in the South, outside Florida, which is a political and cultural anomaly in the region. The 2010 midterms and retirements appeared to seal the political realignment of the region by wiping out many of the remaining moderate, white Democrats representing culturally conservative territory.
Redistricting, almost exclusively controlled by Republicans now in the region, has also dimmed Democratic prospects in the South. Add to that Republicans’ plans to target the Democrats who held on last cycle in places such as North Carolina, and the difficulty of what Democrats in the South face during the next 17 months becomes clear.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said recently that Democrats have a very good chance of netting the 24 seats needed for Democrats to win back the House next year. But is that feat even possible without regaining territory in the South?
“We’ll win some seats [in the South]. I just think it will be over time,” Alabama-based Democratic pollster John Anzalone said. “Whether it’s part of taking back the House in 2012, I don’t know. But if we don’t take it back in 2012, but take it 2014 or 2016, the South is going to be a part of bringing it back because it was last time, and the math, quite frankly, is part of that.”
Anzalone added: “But to say that these seats are gone forever is the same argument people made in 1994” after the GOP wave.
Many of the gains House Democrats made in 2008 and 2006, the year they won the majority, were negated in the 2010 GOP wave. Last cycle, the GOP gained three seats in Tennessee, two seats in Arkansas and Mississippi, and one each in North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia.
Dave Beattie, a Florida-based Democratic pollster, said he thinks the party can compete for and reclaim southern seats next year.
“I’m not optimistic of winning back the House. I am optimistic of winning back seats,” he said.
Beattie emphasized candidate recruitment is key. Democrats touted their ability to find candidates who fit the districts as a key aspect to their 2006 and 2008 House gains.