Jewish World Review March 12, 2004 / 19 Adar, 5764

Carl P. Leubsdorf

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No one's whistling ‘Dixie’ | Campaigning for this week's primaries in Texas and three other Southern states, John Kerry sought to identify himself with the region and proclaim his intention of challenging President Bush in Dixie.

As the all-but-certain Democratic nominee said in Mississippi, "I believe people in the South care deeply about jobs." Or, as he put it in a recent debate, "They care about balancing the budget in the South. They care about law and order in the South."

That may be true. But Kerry seemed closer to the truth in January when he indicated in New Hampshire that a winning strategy looked west rather than south.

"Everybody makes the mistake of looking south," he said. "Al Gore proved he could have been president ... without winning one Southern state, including his own."

Gore, of course, didn't win any of the 11 one-time Confederate states. But even with his narrow loss in Florida, he would have become president if he had won New Hampshire or West Virginia.

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And though Bill Clinton won twice with help from four Southern states, he, too, could have won without the South, thanks to his solid support in the Northeast, the Midwest and the West Coast.

This year, because Southern and Western states gained electoral votes in the 2000 census, Kerry must win both New Hampshire and West Virginia along with the states Gore won four years ago. A victory in Florida, where polls show him narrowly ahead, again would be more than enough for Democrats to win.

But he won't need the rest of the South and, except for Florida, seems unlikely to spend much time there aside from fund-raising visits and perhaps a few ventures to show he hasn't written it off.

The degree to which the South is out of play was apparent in the Bush campaign's recent decision to run TV ads in 17 key states. The decision provided an insight into where the campaign thinks the election will be won.

Of the 17 listed in the political Hotline, only two were in the South: Florida and Arkansas. That suggests that the president's strategists believe Bush has a good grip on the region.

But the list did include five Western states that could be in play - Washington, Oregon and New Mexico, which Gore carried in 2000, and Arizona and Nevada, which Bush won.

It also included three small states that may be as close in 2004 as in 2000: Maine, New Hampshire and West Virginia.

And there were seven industrial Midwest states that analysts believe are crucial in 2004: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, which Gore won, and Ohio and Missouri, where Bush won.

This pattern represents a dramatic change from the close elections a generation ago when Southern support was crucial to a Democratic victory.

The last Northern Democrat to win the White House, John F. Kennedy, wouldn't have done so without carrying Texas and six other Southern states. In 1976, Jimmy Carter carried every Southern state except Virginia.

But as the two parties have become more ideologically divided, the South has become increasingly Republican and the Northeast and Far West more Democratic. Indeed, the national electoral map has reversed itself from a century ago, when the Republicans dominated the North and the Democrats controlled the South.

That won't change in 2004.

Bush, despite last week's fund-raising trip to California, isn't likely to do much better there than he did four years ago. And Kerry's visit last weekend to Texas won't be repeated often, except to pick up some dollars, give moral support to Democratic congressional candidates and twit the Texas president on his home turf.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.


03/01/04: Voting for veep?
09/05/03: As debates begin, Democrats likely to shuffle positions
08/29/03: Will 2008 see a Clinton-Hutchison presidential contest?
08/01/03: Dems risk loss if they heed special interests
07/18/03: Prez not his father's son

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