Democrats don't need Dixie

Right now, the Democrats are as excited about this election as any since 1992. They are positioned to win enough seats to capture the House of Representatives, and perhaps the Senate as well. For many Democrats, and particularly women or Baltimoreans with hometown pride, the thought of area native Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female speaker of the House is a heady prospect, indeed.

Whether Ms. Pelosi will get the 15 seats she needs to put her over the top depends less on how voters feel about her party than it does on their level of disgruntlement with the Republicans and President Bush, particularly on the issue of Iraq. What's not in doubt is whence the new Democrats who would form Ms. Pelosi's new majority caucus would come - or rather, not come: the South.


An electoral tide of sufficient magnitude next month would surely sweep out a few Southern Republicans. Former Tennessee football star Heath Shuler is a Democrat leading his race in western North Carolina. The Democrats also hope to pick up the seats in Florida and Texas vacated, respectively, by disgraced Mark Foley and deposed Minority Leader Tom DeLay.

But most Democratic victories will be won north of the Mason-Dixon Line or west of the Mississippi River. In fact, about three-quarters of the Republican-held seats in jeopardy are located in what I call the "4D rectangle" of states formed by connecting Dover, N.H.; Dover, Del.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Duluth, Minn.


Five states within this rectangle have three or more Republicans in jeopardy: Connecticut, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Democratic candidates in Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire and Wisconsin are also competitive.

Meanwhile, Republicans are even struggling to hold seats in some distinctly red portions of the country, including eastern Washington, western Idaho, central New Mexico, southeastern Arizona and Wyoming.

A similar pattern is emerging in the battle to control the Senate. Minority Leader Harry Reid must flip six states and hold New Jersey to obtain the needed 50 seats for Democratic control. (Independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont is expected to win and caucus with the Democrats, providing a majority of 51 seats.)

Winning that sixth and decisive seat means that either Tennessee Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. must beat Republican Bob Corker, the former Chattanooga mayor, or former Reagan administration Navy Secretary (and party switcher) James Webb must defeat embattled Republican incumbent George Allen of Virginia. The most recent polls, however, show Mr. Corker and Mr. Allen ahead.

Elsewhere, the four Republican Senate incumbents most likely to lose their seats are Montana's Conrad Burns, Ohio's Mike DeWine, Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee. Democrat Claire McCaskill, Missouri's state auditor, has a slight lead over Republican first-termer Jim Talent.

Even if the Democrats capture only four of these five non-Southern seats, and Mr. Ford and Mr. Webb make comebacks, Mr. Reid's 50-plus-Sanders majority will still be made up of 44 non-Southerners and just six Southern Democrats. That's not a lot of high cotton.

As for governors, the regional pattern continues: Six of the seven most likely pickups for Democrats are outside the South.

Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe looks like a certain Democratic winner. New York's Eliot Spitzer and Ohio's Ted Strickland have opened similarly wide margins over their respective Republican foes. In Massachusetts, Deval Patrick is preparing to become only the second black governor since Reconstruction.


Turning westward, Colorado's Bill Ritter is pulling away from Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez, and Dina Titus has been handed a late-campaign windfall in Nevada courtesy of two brewing scandals involving Republican nominee Jim Gibbons. If Mr. Ritter and Ms. Titus both win, the number of Democratic governors in the eight interior West states will jump from four to six. In 2001, there were none.

The final possible Democratic pickup is in Maryland. Whatever the outcome of the dogfight between Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Democratic Governors Association Chairman Bill Richardson can rest assured that his party will soon control a majority of American governors for the first time since 1994.

What is the larger meaning of these regional patterns? The short answer is that we are witnessing the completion of the partisan realignment that, by fits and starts, began with the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education and accelerated during the ensuing civil rights movement.

In the South, that realignment is mostly complete: In 1960, there were no Republican governors or U.S. senators, and just a handful of Republican House members and state legislators. Today, the GOP boasts majorities on every level.

The "Southern strategy," initiated by Barry Goldwater in 1964, improved upon by Richard Nixon, perfected by Ronald Reagan and now taken for granted by George W. Bush, has become a fait accompli.

In the Northeast-Midwest corridor, however, the regional realignment has yet to run its full course, as evidenced by the many Republicans in the tradition of Nelson Rockefeller and Gerald Ford who continue to hold office. Like Governor Ehrlich in Maryland, these self-described "Main Street Partnership" Republicans preach the coupling of fiscal restraint with moderation on social issues.


But their faction lost the internecine party battle for dominance to the more conservative wing birthed by Mr. Goldwater and subsequently shepherded into power by Newt Gingrich and President Bush. The differences between the current Bush administration and its paternal predecessor are indicative of that struggle and its outcome.

The civil rights movement forced Southern whites to choose between their New Deal-era populism and the demands of racial integration and cultural assimilation. Today's Northeastern and Midwestern whites confront a similar, albeit more subtle, choice between their preferences for a more private faith, a more responsible accounting for their hard-earned tax dollars and a more prudent use of America's military might - and a national Republican Party that has abandoned those principles to appease its ascendant Southern wing.

Ms. Pelosi was raised in Baltimore, but the district she represents is in Berkeley, Calif. Mr. Reid hails from Nevada, and Mr. Richardson is governor of New Mexico. These three Westerners are hoping that January 2007 will be a month filled with moving boxes and moving speeches hallmarking the end of the Republicans' 12-year congressional and gubernatorial reign.

Should they find themselves leading new Democratic majorities, their ascendancy will be the byproduct of a regional correction that has mostly unfolded on the other side of the country in a quadrant of Rust Belt states over which the modern Republican Party is slowly - and perhaps inevitably - losing its grip.

Thomas F. Schaller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." His e-mail is