Dems, Biden look to accelerate Southern political shift
ATLANTA (AP) — From Mississippi retiring its state flag to local governments removing Confederate statues from public spaces, a bipartisan push across the South is chipping away at reminders of the Civil War and Jim Crow segregation.
Now, during a national reckoning on racism, Democratic Party leaders want those symbolic changes to become part of a fundamental shift at the ballot box.
Many Southern electorates are getting younger, less white and more urban, and thus less likely to embrace President Donald Trump’s white identity politics. Southern Democrats are pairing a demographically diverse slate of candidates for state and congressional offices with presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, a 77-year-old white man they believe can appeal to what remains perhaps the nation’s most culturally conservative region.
“There’s so much opportunity for everyone in this region,” said Jaime Harrison, Democratic challenger to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and a 44-year-old Black man.
Decades of economic development have coaxed new residents to the area. That includes white people from other parts of the country, Black families returning generations after the Great Migration north during the lynching and segregation era, and a growing Latino population. Harrison noted that even younger native Southerners, Black and white, are less wed to hard-partisan identities than their parents and grandparents were.
“Sometimes we get held back by leadership that’s still anchored in old ways,” Harrison said. But “all of these changes are starting to move the dynamics in so many communities. … That’s not to say we’re forgetting our past. But it won’t be the thing that’s dragging us back.”
The November elections will determine the extent of the change, with competitive races in the South affecting the presidency, U.S. Senate control and the balance of power in statehouses from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Austin, Texas.
Democratic victories would redefine policy fights over expanding health insurance access and overhauling criminal justice procedures, among other matters. The general election is also critical because voters will elect the state lawmakers who will draw legislative and congressional boundaries after the 2020 census.
Republicans, for the most part, aren’t as quick as Democrats to frame 2020 as a redefining year. Still, they acknowledge obvious shifts that began with suburban growth in northern Virginia and extended southward down the coastline and westward to Texas.
“North Carolina, Georgia, Texas – these are becoming real two-party states,” said Republican pollster Brent Buchanan, whose firm, Cygnal, aides GOP campaigns across the country.
Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, talks eagerly of “an expanded map” that puts North Carolina and Florida in the same toss-up category as the Great Lakes states that sent Trump to the White House. Georgia and Texas, she adds, will be tighter than they’ve been in decades.