Democrats in their jubilation have tended to overstate the extent of President Barack Obama's re-election. Some have argued, like Steve Kornucki, that the party could well do without the South or gun owners. Understandably, given that Obama has not pushed one gun control measure, he nevertheless faced the stubborn opposition of the National Rifle Association. The NRA opposed him for measures not taken and legislation unproposed.
But to write off Dixie entirely is risky. Virginia was solidly won, but Florida proved to be a narrow win. Moreover, North Carolina was lost albeit narrowly. The rest of the Democratic ticket went down to defeat in the Tar Heel State by larger margins. Another Red State, Indiana, which Obama captured in 2008 by a close vote, went substantially for Mitt Romney in 2012. Missouri, which Obama lost by only 3,000 votes in 2008, saw him lose by a substantial margin in 2012. Even Pennsylvania contained a cautionary tale for the Democrats.
The McKinley configuration of a great many of the northern states and just enough western states may be hard to sustain. So to completely abandon every southern state but Virginia and Florida is foolish as a strategy. Obama did show progress in South Carolina and Georgia but proved not much of a factor in Tennessee and Arkansas. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton carried both these states. And of course, we know about West Virginia, which has gone from a Blue State in the 1990s to a vehemently Red State presidentially. Obama garnered 35 percent in 2012, an 8 percent drop from 2008.
Yet for Democrats, it is incumbent to figure a way to package their message within the realities of the region. Natural gas is thriving and coal is in abundance. Particularly the gas boom has brought prosperity and substantial salaries. Given Democratic environmental concerns, this has placed the party in an odd position of not supporting economic growth. In West Virginia, because of this stance, it has allowed Republicans to out flank Democrats on the social improvement front. Also there is evidence that it is working at the local level with 45 Republican seats in the House of Delegates.
Obama nor the national Democratic Party have bothered to explain their positions to these energy voters. They leave it up to the Environmental Protection Agency, whose concerns are expressed in bureaucratic and not political language. The national effort was pathetic in 2012 and although it was not crucial it nevertheless displayed a blind eye to a crucial area. Perhaps the cultural resistance is insurmountable, but in all fairness it has never been challenged.
Despite Obama's inroads in 2008, the Democrats find themselves increasingly on the defensive in the South and on the border. Al Gore, John Kerry and Obama have lost states regularly taken by Clinton. Gore blithely expected support and lost all the South including his home state of Tennessee. Kerry was wiped out and although Obama did better, he depended on three southern states.
Perhaps white Southerners are too obsessed about guns, race and rigid morality. But Obama and the rest of the Democratic leaders simply wrote it off and refused to challenge their conservative foes. Had John F. Kennedy been so passive about the religious issue in 1960, he just may have suffered the fate of Al Smith in 1928.
Questioning voters of entrenched beliefs is not easy but is essential. To persistently write the region off is to court defeat if not at the White House level most assuredly at the congressional and state level. Democrats must challenge the GOP on areas seen as unassailable.