Mary Landrieu’s defeat gives Republicans control from Carolinas to Texas

Mary Landrieu

“Democrats no longer hold a Senate seat, governor’s mansion or legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas,” writes Alex Rogers in Time in the wake of incumbent Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu’s thumping on Saturday to Republican challenger Bill Cassidy. 56 percent of voters lined up behind Cassidy, while just 44 percent supported Landrieu. But the magnitude of this thumping isn’t illustrated in the topline results from Saturday.

The number of qualified votes in Louisiana breaks down like this:

Registered Democrats: 1,375,027 (46.7%)
Registered Republicans:  816,594 (27.7%)
Registered Other: 754,110 (25.6%)

Cassidy garnered 712,330 votes, and Landrieu captured 561,099 votes. If most Republicans voted for Cassidy and most Democrats voted for Landrieu, then fewer than half of Democrats turned out on Saturday (about 40%), while roughly 87 percent of Republicans turned out for the runoff. This hypothesis doesn’t account for Independent voters, who likely broke for Cassidy.

At Time, Rogers continues:

Democrats are dead in the land of Dixie.

With the fall of three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu Saturday, Louisiana will not have a Democratic statewide elected official for the first time since 1876. And the Republican Party will control, as the Associated Press noted, every Senate seat, governor’s mansion and legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas.

Congress’ last white Democrat in the Deep South didn’t lose because of a superior opponent, but because of her association with a deeply unpopular President and a health-care law that destroyed the chances to extend other Democratic dynasties this cycle, including Georgia’s Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn.

Landrieu’s defeat — and the broader defeat of Democrats in the Deep South — may play a significant role in the 2016 elections. An Associated Press report notes:

The defeat Saturday of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was essentially the final act in the Republican Party’s control this fall of the South — a transition expected to have a significant impact on the 2016 White House races.

The victory by Republican challenger and Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy means that Democrats in January will be left without a single U.S. senator or governor across nine states — stretching from the Carolinas to Texas.

And GOP runoff victories Saturday in two Louisiana House districts ensure the party of at least 246 seats, the largest Republican advantage since the Truman administration after World War II.

Furthermore, Republicans in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas will control nearly every majority-white congressional district and both state legislative chambers.

POLITICO’s James Hohmann wondered aloud last week if Democrats could make a comeback in the South, noting the party “needs to spend less time on divisive social issues and more on middle-class economic concerns,” a criticism often launched at conservative Republicans. Pointing to pro-business Southern Democrat Phil Bredsen, who served as Governor of Tennessee from 2003 to 2011, Hohmann suggests a more populist, middle-class “vision” could make Democrats competitive again.

What Hohmann fails to mention about Bredesen and the Tennessee example is that most Tennessee Democrats weren’t liberal when they lost both chambers of the state legislature — the Senate in 2006 and the House in 2008. Republicans have grown their majorities in Nashville, mostly by knocking off rural conservative Democrats — the kinds of Democrats Hohmann posits could regain a foothold in Southern states.

Conservative Southern Democrats are hardly different than Republicans but are significantly different from San Francisco Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and New York Democrats like Chuck Schumer. It’s almost inconceivable that the two could co-exist within the same political party.

Hohmann writes:

Most believe that vision will be found in pocketbook issues, particularly related to the middle class, including a revival of the more populist economic message that resonated during the first half of the 20th century. Support for student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, equal pay for equal work – all can be framed in a way that strengthens and bolsters the working class, Democrats say.

In 1962, every senator and an overwhelming majority of House members from the South was a Democrat. Next year, Democrats will control 39 of 149 Southern congressional seats, fewer than at any time since Reconstruction. The GOP won each of the seven governor’s races in the South this year as well, padding majorities in state legislatures across the region.

The Democrats’ earlier dominance, some of which stemmed from the Jim Crow era, faded steadily since the mid-1960s. Now, the party has hit rock bottom, but many younger candidates and strategists believe the atmosphere is ripe for a bounce-back.

As a native Tennessean, it’s hard for this author to fathom a significant Democratic comeback in the Volunteer State. Republicans now hold supermajorities in both Chambers, and the Democrat candidate for governor this year captured just 22.8 percent of the vote.

Hohmann does suggest one way to rebrand the Democratic Party in the South is to move away from Barack Obama, which is pretty difficult to do given the fact that he still occupies the White House. For now, there doesn’t seem to be a clear path back to political relevancy for Democrats in the Deep South.

Michael Tomasky, writing at The Daily Beast in the wake of Landrieu’s defeat, encourages Democrats to write-off the Deep South altogether. Tomasky rejects Hohmann’s suggestion that Southern Democrats embrace populism and says Democrats don’t need those states anyway.

Tomasky writes:

In sum, between the solid-blue states in the North and on the West Coast, and the pockets of opportunity that exist in the states just mentioned (and tossing in the black Southern seats), the Democrats can cobble together congressional majorities in both houses, under the right circumstances.

But it’s not just a question of numbers. The main point is this: Trying to win Southern seats is not worth the ideological cost for Democrats. As Memphis Rep. Steve Cohen recently told my colleague Ben Jacobs, the Democratic Party cannot (and I’d say should not) try to calibrate its positions to placate Southern mores: “It’s come to pass, and really a lot of white Southerners vote on gays and guns and God, and we’re not going to ever be too good on gays and guns and God.”

And perhaps it will take a generation for the Democrat message to resonate in much of the Deep South. Who knows. On at least one of those issues — gay marriage — Southern voters have just about reached parity, according to a report earlier this year in The Atlantic.

At least for the forseeable future, Republicans have planted their flag in the region, and Democrats aren’t going to gain much ground.

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