Democrats recently concluded their National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. To the uninitiated it may seem unusual for the party to hold its Convention in a state they barely won in the landslide 2008 election. Yet Democrats are contesting the state this cycle. And even if they do not succeed in winning the state again this year in the future they expect demographics to shift the state in their favor. Virginia is another state that has seen this demographic shift with growth in minority populations and the state becoming increasingly less rural.
In Georgia Democrats are not contesting the state this cycle. But just as in VA and North Carolina, growth in minority populations and a substantial increase in the urban vote (Atlanta) makes Democrats feel optimistic about their chances in the state in the future. According to the 2010 Census the Hispanic population tripled in Georgia and in North Carolina it is estimated that the number of eligible Hispanics in North Carolina who can vote this election has doubled from 2008.
Specifically, in Georgia Democrats feel like they have the perfect candidate waiting in the wings, first term Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed. According to a Roll Call article Reed is well liked by both Democrats and Republicans. It could also be inferred he is laying the groundwork for a future statewide office campaign as he has been involved in dealings with both sides of the aisle. For now Reed seems content to sit in Atlanta and gain more experience and name ID but in several years or a decade he could be a formidable challenger to any GOP opponent he faces on a statewide ballot.
While demographics may favor Democrats in VA, NC and GA they do not favor the party in other Southern states, specifically FL, AL, MISS, LA, MS, AR, TN. In each state the minority population held steady while the white population increased. Of course in most presidential elections recently (minus 92 and 96) only Florida has been competitive out of the group of states listed above but Democrats still have hopes they can build on their minority African-American base in the Deep South. The odds appear against it however.
As the Democratic Party has incorporated more minorities and women into its fold the party has been shedding white voters like crazy. Many of these white voters were former Southern, conservative Democrats. They have since turned away from the party as its message has been tailored to urban and suburban single women and minorities. Unless Democrats can find a way to win these white voters back it is unlikely the South will become fully Democratic anytime soon.
However, it would not be fair for me to say the Democrats even need the entire South. If Democrats could turn VA. NC and GA to their side in the next few presidential elections that would be a swing of almost 50 electoral votes. The GOP would have to make that up somewhere else. While the GOP may have a good shot at winning Midwestern states in the future it does not look like Wisconsin or Michigan will turn right before any sooner than, say, Georgia turns left.
In the short-term Democrats face an increasingly hostile Southern white population that votes in greater proportion than the African-American or Hispanic population. Long-term however Democrats hope to compete statewide and build a new House majority on winning newly competitive Southern states. To build a House majority running through the South will at least take a decade however as the current GOP administrations in each state have consolidated minority populations in Congressional districts where they can do less damage than they otherwise could.
For Democrats winning new House seats in the South would be a major coup. The current GOP majority, and that the party had from 1994 to 2006 rests largely on control of the majority of Southern districts. To simplify things I classify any Southern district as being as far north as VA and as far west as Missouri. Currently, the GOP controls 83 of the 117 Congressional districts that fall under this geographical area. Add in Oklahoma and Texas and the margin grows. By 2014 the GOP could be even more a Southern party as both GA and SC gained a new seats that are expected to go Republican. Missouri lost a a Democratic seat, redistricting in both GA and NC threaten Democratic incumbents and an open seat in Oklahoma leans to the right. In short, if Democrats cut into GOP margins in this region they could begin to establish a permanent majority in the House, much like they had from 1954-1994.
So far the GOP is showing little worry about how demographic shifts in the country could change future elections. If 2012 is any indication than the party seriously is lagging behind Democrats in reaching out and appealing to new minority voters. For a GOP majority to endure, especially it runs through the South, the party will have to find a way to appeal to both majority white conservatives and minority voters. Democrats believe this puts the party at a serious disadvantage and perhaps it does. But if the GOP establishment has not quite woken up to changing demographics, individual GOP groups and leaders have. This helps explain in 2010 how new GOP leaders such as Governor Susana Martinez (NM) and Brian Sandoval (NV) along with Senator Marco Rubio (FL) and Representative Allen West (FL) were elected.
Democrats remain bullish on the South (or at least parts of it) becoming competitive in the future. If current political trends hold true they likely will be right. But in politics nothing is certain. Nothing is certainly consistent and that means banking ones future on predictions can be a dangerous game.