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If anybody needed fresh proof of that, it came along in the 2000 election, when even a Tennessee Democrat, Al Gore, could not break through the brick wall of Caucasian conservatism to win a single state in Dixie. “The South is no longer the swing region:’ proclaimed political science professor and pundit Thomas Schaller, author of a “non-Southern” manifesto published in 2006 called Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South. “It has swung.” That’s the story, and a sweet one it is for both Republicans andin a perverse wayblue state Democrats. For Republicans, this neat little fiction confirms their superior command of political strategythe canny ruthlessness with which they appropriated white backlash against ’60s liberalism, then rode the angry tide of evangelical politics in the ’80s. It also offers them the charming promise of starting every presidential election with one-third \(and electoral votes already sewn up. Meanwhile, Democrats outside the Souththose who actually believe this Disneyesque version of political historycan recount the legend and view themselves, and their party, as martyrs for racial justice. The party’s sad record in national politics, postLBJ, has indeed been a cross to bear. But such is the price of righteousness. But nobody told Southerners they weren’t supposed to be Democrats anymore. During the 2006 midterm elections, Gallup pollsters discovered that more folks still said they were Democrats than Republicans in all but three Southern statesTexas, South Carolina, and Mississippi. In half of the South, it wasn’t even close: Democrats led by more than 10 percentage points in six Southern states. It’s not just the partisan leanings of Southerners that confound the solid South myths. Southerners are more conservative only if you winnow down American politics to cultural or “moral” issues alone. Southerners still tack the furthest right on gay marriage and abortion and still lead the nation in churchgoing. They also back withdrawal from Iraq and strongly favor progressive populist economic policiesmore spending on social welfare, stronger environmental and business regulations, universal health carethat are anathema to the GOP and, in many cases, markedly to the left of the national Democratic leadership. But you’d never know that by listening to the conventional wisdom. The South has, in the popular mind, always been “solid”solidly white, solidly conservative, solidly fundamentalist, and of course, solidly racist. But never solidly populist and that is where the Democrats made their mistake. The Republicans’ Southern surge has been picked apart and celebrated by scores of political scientists and pundits. But just as much as the GOP won the region with its appeals to suburbanites and cultural tradi tionalists, the Democratic Party lost it by failing to build on its new black base. The story of how, and why, the Democrats surrendered Dixie is well worth chewing over. Segregationist whites did, unquestionably, begin defecting in large numbers to the formerly hated “cocktail party” in the wake of the civil rights movement. But they were outnumbered by the mas sive infusion of Southern blacks into the Democratic Party. Between the mid term elections of 1966 and 1970, more than 1.7 mil lion African Americans registered to vote, spiking the region-wide percent age of registered blacks to nearly 60 percent. At the same time, white Southerners’ racial atti tudes were, in historian Matthew Lassiter’s terms, undergoing one of the “most pronounced shifts in the history of opinion polling.” In a May 1970 Gallup Poll, for example, only 16 percent of white parents in the South opposed sending their children to schools with a small number of black studentscompared to 61 percent in 1963. In the North, meanwhile, white support for a federal role in school integration dropped from 47 percent in 1966 to 21 percent in 1976. Liberals had long nourished the hope that integration would spawn a new Democratic coalition of blacks, Latinos, and moderate and progressive whites. Even as Nixon swept Dixie in 1972, there were encouraging signs. While Harry Dent, the Southerners still tack the furthest right on gay marriage and abortion and still lead the nation in churchgoing. They also back withdrawal from Iraq and strongly favor progressive populist economic policies. 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 17, 2008