Political Animal


March 07, 2012 9:25 AM Southern Discomfort

By Ed Kilgore

You can’t go too far wrong by assuming that anything Newt Gingrich says is off in some serious respect. Yet one completely irrational thing he keeps saying appears to have sunk into the collective unconscious of the chattering classes: Mitt Romney must win in the South before he can win the nomination.

My first reaction to that is: why? Are votes at the convention weighted by region? Is the South the principal battleground region in the general election? Does the South exert some sort of emotional demand on the GOP that must be satisfied?

And my second reaction is: didn’t Romney win in Florida and Virginia, former states of the Confederacy? Now it’s true much of Florida feels about as “southern” as New Jersey, and that Gingrich ran even with Romney in the Dixified northern part of the state. It’s also true that Mitt didn’t have to face Santorum or Gingrich in VA. And for that matter, I used to tease my extremely self-conscious Cavalier colleague Will Marshall that Virginia was merely a “border state.”

But votes are votes, and there are difficulties with any definition of “the South” (one is that “the South” is where people used to own people, but that would include states like Delaware, Maryland and Missouri that don’t exactly behave in a “southern” manner politically).

In any event, in my latest TNR column I’ve tried to unpack the whole “Mitt Must Win In Dixie” meme, and concluded it’s largely a crock. Yes, if he continues to struggle in the South and in the Midwest it could be a real problem for him in nailing down the nomination, but that’s just another way of saying you have to keep winning a majority of delegates in primaries and caucuses until you have a majority of all the delegates. Much of Mitt’s weakness in the South isn’t some mysterious cultural thing, but simply reflects the fact that “very conservative” and white evangelical voters don’t much like him, and there are a lot of those folks in the South. According to the exit polls, 73% of the primary voters in Tennessee were evangelicals/born-agains, as were 72% in Oklahoma and 64% in GA. It’s no surprise he lost those states, but if he strugges in any of them in November, he’s clearly going to be losing all over the place. So we should give this meme a rest going forward.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • SadOldVet on March 07, 2012 9:44 AM:

    Damn Ed. Are you DLC types pimping for Romney?

    Or is your hatred for Santorum overwhelming you again?

    Or do you know something that we mere mortals who desire a strong showing by Obama and the dems in state and congressional races don't?

  • ComradeAnon on March 07, 2012 9:45 AM:

    No different than "Anti-Incumbent Sentiment" or "Newt is so smart". I'm still trying to find someone to explain that last one to me.

  • Ron Byers on March 07, 2012 9:48 AM:

    All Romney has to do to win the nomination is win enough delegates and he can do that without the South. Southerners will vote for him in the general regardless of who they vote for now, because Obama stands accused of being President while black. The South is the one area of the country where the Republicans should win regardless of who is the nominee. The real question is can any of the current candidates win outside the South, a few border states and some of the mountain west.

  • Danp on March 07, 2012 9:50 AM:

    His bigger problem is that he doesn't appeal to rural voters or blue collar voters. And he definitely won't appeal to Dems. Republicans rely on enthusiasm from the cultural fringe and low-info working class. The primaries are the time to win these voters. If he tacks left after the nomination, he only becomes less appealing to these people.

  • Dredd on March 07, 2012 10:02 AM:

    A question that is not asked as often, is what must the people do to win an election? It is not all about Mitt.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on March 07, 2012 10:04 AM:

    GA and SC That they would choose The Newt with a whopping majority says all you need to know. They are not like the rest of us. So stupid it hurts

  • NHCt on March 07, 2012 10:07 AM:

    It reminds me of all the chatter in '08 about how Obama was doomed because Clinton was winning all the "down-scale whites." When it came time for the general election, they went and voted for the black guy. This year, all the Southern GOPers will dutifully how up on election day and vote for the Mormon.

  • Ron Byers on March 07, 2012 10:19 AM:

    When you cut away all the nonsense, is there a real reason to vote for any of the members of the clown car, Mitt Romney included? Are any of them promising anything other than "I am not the black guy?" Seriously, didn't the GOP learn in 2008 that Americans will vote for Obama in overwhelming numbers even if he doesn't make tired old white racists feel warm and cuddly?

    The problem with Mitt Romney is he has never articulated a reason to vote for him. His economic plan is appealing to some people in the upper 1% but not many more.

  • martin on March 07, 2012 10:20 AM:

    but that would include states like Delaware, Maryland and Missouri that don’t exactly behave in a “southern” manner politically

    Ever been to Southern Maryland, Southern Delaware or most of Missouri? ;>

  • Sam Wang on March 07, 2012 10:23 AM:

    Regarding the importance of winning the South in the primaries, isn't it the opposite? In the general election the South is in the bag for the Republicans. If it's not, they are in big trouble.

    Logically, the South is the one area that Romney does not need to win. Strength in Midwestern and Northern states is much more important.

  • square1 on March 07, 2012 11:00 AM:

    The exaggerated political importance of the South is a bipartisan phenomenon. One is tempted to believe that it is derived from a deep-rooted insecurity of Southerners that the rest of the country is going to write the region off as a backwater of ignorant hicks. Thus, these Southerners never stop crowing about how, Willy Loman-esque, "Attention must be paid" to the South.

    Armchair psychology aside, the South is even less important for a GOP candidate than for a Democratic candidate.

    An argument can be made that it is important for a Democratic Presidential candidate to appeal in the South. A counter-argument can be made that most of the South is so fully in the hands of the GOP that it makes more sense to punt on those states rather than to water down the Democratic brand by trying to appeal to Southern voters. However, this is a legitimate argument.

    But why does Romney have to win in the South? The GOP owns the South. If Romney wins the nomination, who are Southern Republicans going to vote for? Obama?

    All logic should dictate that the true litmus test for a GOP Presidential candidate should be whether they can get support outside of the South.

    It remains very unlikely that Romney can beat Obama. But if he does it, it will be because he managed to steal critical electoral votes in New England and the West.

  • Stetson Kennedy on March 07, 2012 11:22 AM:

    While Newt is clearly wrong about Mitt needing to win the south to win the nomination, his point isn't entirely without relevance. If Mitt can't carry the south, what chance does he have in a general election? None, and less than none.

  • TCinLA on March 07, 2012 11:25 AM:

    Romney has to hold the South (the deep Confederate part) because that is now "the base" of the Southern White People's Chowder and Treason Party, aka the "Republicans."

  • Bj Smith on March 07, 2012 11:38 AM:

    Ron Byers & square 1 make very valid points. This will still be a tough race for Obama because of unlimited money running amuck & the intense absolute hatred that is being drummed into the far right since............well day after day after day, since the minute Obama was declared winner in 2008.

    I hope women hold on to the feelings they have now because of Limbaugh. There has been a war on women for a long, long time. In the sixties women took on that fight, it looks as if they may have to do so again. It could very well make a huge difference in 2012.

    ever sense the announcement Obama had won in 2008foever well u

  • Lucia on March 07, 2012 11:48 AM:

    @Stetson Kennedy and TCinLA: The R will win the South, no matter whose name is next to it, so it doesn't matter if Romney wins it over other Republicans. I just saw a map of Ohio showing that Romney won Cleveland/Youngstown, Columbus and Cincinnati, and Santorum won the entire rest of the state. In the general election the cities will all go for Obama, and that's when conservative dislike of Romney becomes a problem: how many will hold their noses and vote for him, and how many will decide they're not voting for the perpetrator of ACA Beta? Especially with Obama losing no opportunity to thank Romney for giving him the blueprint.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on March 07, 2012 11:49 AM:

    Ron Byers has it right -- if anything, Southern votes should be weighted very low in the primaries because there's literally no candidate who could lose there to this demonized image of Obama that's been 3+ years in the making.

    Of course in a rational party, that means someone like Huntsman would run away with the nomination because he could actually win in swing states without needing to crash the economy. In Republican minds, that means they just need to find someone sufficiently fascist to get the silent majority of fascists streaming to the polls. Good thing the GOP isn't rational. I think.

  • Mitch on March 07, 2012 12:29 PM:


    "One is tempted to believe that it is derived from a deep-rooted insecurity of Southerners that the rest of the country is going to write the region off as a backwater of ignorant hicks."

    It may only be "armchair psychology" but, as a child of the South, I think that you are entirely correct.

    Also, many Southerners are convinced that they alone are "Real Americans", and anyone who disagrees with them is a borderline traitor at least. Urban Yankees are not "Real Americans", neither are Florida decadents or anyone from California.

    Of course, that's probably a result of the aforementioned insecurity. The "Southern Strategy" of the GOP also inflated this sense of cultural superiority.

    As a son of Kentucky who now lives in California, I have been told by my own family members that I should "stay out there with the rest of the liberal asswipes" and that California should just "go back to being part of Mexico", etc.

    I reply, "One out of eight American citizens lives in California. That's gotta count for something in a democratic republic."

    The response I get is, "That just means one out of eight Americans are not really a part of this country."

    That's the mentality of far too many people in the South. Not everyone, by any means. Especially among the elderly, there are many Roosevelt Democrats who remember the good days of the TVA and the New Deal. But to fit in with the bulk of modern Southern culture, you have to act and think like that.

    Which is why I moved to California. :)

    Captcha: lunar ruralcy ... Don't you mean rural lunacy?

  • Ron E. on March 07, 2012 1:59 PM:

    This is the same dumb meme we saw in 2008 that claimed Obama was doomed because he lost the Ohio and California primaries (among others) to Hillary Clinton. The 2008 general election should have dispatched this nonsense once and for all. There are totally different electorates in primaries and general elections and you just cannot extrapolate from one to the other. Obama was never in any danger of losing California in November of 2008 nor is Romney going to lose Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina (unless some prominent social conservative runs on a 3rd party ticket) this November.

  • Jose Hipants on March 07, 2012 2:27 PM:

    There's a widespread feeling among southerners that they should be shown extra special consideration by everyone else, or they'll have a hissy. It's been like that since colonial days - you can see it written into the Constitution.

  • skeptonomist on March 07, 2012 2:53 PM:

    Newt says that the nominee must win in the South because that's where he has the best chance of winning states (he may win Alabama and Mississippi next week). And the media quote him because he is a good source of "controversial" (i.e. nonsensical) copy. If we didn't have all the cable news networks with 24 hours to fill, Newt might have disappeared long ago.

  • ComradeAnon on March 07, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Ok. After reading all the analysis of the "South", ya'll have forgotten one thing. All the Yankees that live down here. And they don't know how to drive on snow and ice either.

  • Doug on March 07, 2012 8:51 PM:

    Perhaps the Newtster is merely trying to poison the well; ie, de-legitimizing Romney's nomination BEFORE Romney even has the delegates, by implying that if Romney can't win impressive numbers of delegates in the South, aka the GOP's bastion, then Romney obviously doesn't represent the true spirit of the Republican Party. And, of course, if Romney DOESN'T represent said true spirit, then his nomination wouldn't really represent Republican voters' preferences, now would it?
    I don't know how many delegates Romney needs to get the nomination on the first ballot, but if he goes into the convention with less than that number it won't matter how much wheeling and dealing he does...