McCain Can Carry the South

“Daddy was a veteran, a southern democrat. They oughta get a rich man to vote like that.” —  Song of the South, Performed by Alabama

Ever since The Great Depression, the South has been trying to gain respect from the rest of the country. In every presidential elections since 1968, the winning candidate carried the Old South, and in 2008, John McCain must do so if he is going to win the White House. McCain came south last week to begin to shore up his support in the most conservative part of the country. 

The need for McCain to be successful in the South doesn’t have anything to do with perceptions of Southern politics. Former UN Ambassador and Civil Rights leader Andrew Young said it was “desegregation and air conditioning” that brought back the South. He was right. For the last 40 years on average for every person that moves out of the South, 6 people move in. The Old South is more cosmopolitan and diverse than it has ever been and it shows in the politics. Our part of the country has been the place you have to win to win the presidency.

In Atlanta last week, McCain was able to rally the list of prominent Georgia Republicans to his cause. Governor Sonny Perdue endorsed him. Both Perdue and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle headlined a fundraiser with Senator McCain. (Georgia has just been ranked 7th in the nation in efficiency of government and Governor Perdue is being whispered as a possible running mate for Senator McCain.)

Georgia is arguably the most conservative state in the country by virtue of being the only state in the “slaughter of 2006” to add to its Republican majority. If McCain can win over Georgians, then he’ll do fine in the rest of the South.

Ultimately, McCain will likely win the South. We are pro-military and have many military bases throughout the region. All that plays in McCain’s favor. The economy will not be as big a factor in this region because since it has low union membership, there are actually new plants being built and new jobs being created. We just won’t be hit as hard as the major metropolitan areas if the economy heads into a recession.

McCain acknowledges that the economy is the big issue right now. “I think it’s pretty obvious the economy is on most people’s minds now and is clearly the greatest challenge we face; a subset of that is health care,” McCain said in Friday in Atlanta. Another subset of the problems in the economy is energy policy and the cost of it.

John McCain is the only person still in the race who is talking seriously about energy policy. However, in the drumbeat of the mainstream media, it gets no coverage. This week he addressed this issue by saying, “My friends, 400 billion dollars a year, now, we are sending to oil-producing countries, many of them don’t like us very much. Some of that money ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations….Nuclear power works. The United States Navy has sailed ships around the world for 60 years with nuclear power, and we’ve never had an accident….I’d love to tell you that the price of oil’s going to go down someday. The only way the price of oil is going to come down is it we become oil independent,” said John McCain in Texas last week.

If you are keeping score, McCain wins the national security voters and the economy voters in the South and that leaves one key group, the values voters. Can John McCain, a clearly faithful but reserved man, reach the values voters in the South as Mike Huckabee did?

This part of Senator McCain’s record is “iffy.” McCain has a mixed record on values issues. He’s clearly pro-life but he opposes right-to-life groups and their right to speech (under McCain-Feingold) such as the Wisconsin Right to Life. My guess is he’s a social conservative personally but when it comes to legislation on these issues, he’s not committed. It will be Governor Huckabee’s role in this time between achieving the necessary number of delegates and McCain’s coronation as the nominee to deliver the Values Voters and to school Senator McCain in the more comfortable discussion of these issues.

On the biggest domestic issue of our time, illegal immigration, he’s now singing the song of the Secure the Borders First crowd — about 80% of the American people — but he doesn’t seem to embrace it. Last week, 10 of his colleagues in the Senate introduced new legislation to define this position and to give McCain a place to go legislatively between the June 2007 defeat of McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill and the November 2008 election. We shall see where he leads on this in the next few months. No one believes these bills will get to a debate, much less a vote but it will allow McCain to work on the right side of the issue for the American people.

The final score for McCain at this point in the South, he wins it. Ultimately, for most Southerners — where even most of the Democrats have voted for Republican presidents — he’s better than the alternative and if he makes his major issues fighting terrorism, freeing the economy from taxes and over regulation, smaller government, energy independence and life — he wins the South and that is a big step to winning The White House.


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