How Democrats in the South will Rise Again...

The “Southern Democrat” is dying, but it’s not dead yet.

On Saturday, things got even worse for the Democratic Party. As many expected, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu lost in a runoff race to Republican challenger Congressman Bill Cassidy. To make matters worse, it wasn’t even close. With almost all votes tallied, as of earlier today, Cassidy was beating Landrieu by 14 percent of the vote.

Landrieu’s loss isn’t just another defeat for the Democratic Party. It’s an historic defeat. That’s because Landrieu’s Senate seat hasn’t been held by a Republican since 1883, some 132 years ago. And, Landrieu’s loss also signifies the nearly complete swing in party control in the South.

As The New York Times points out, between 1930 and the early 1960’s, nearly 100% of governors’ mansions, senators’ seats and state legislatures in the South outside of Florida and Virginia were controlled by Democrats. However, since then, slowly but surely, Republicans have been picking up state and national seats throughout the South.

Now, the complete takeover of the South by the Republican Party is nearly complete. As Nate Cohn writes over at The New York Times, “In a region stretching from the high plains of Texas to the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas, Republicans control not only every Senate seat, but every governor’s mansion and every state legislative body.”

So, why is this shift happening?

Well, as Cohn writes, “The dramatic decline of the Southern Democrats represents the culmination of a half-century of political realignment along racial and cultural lines…The shift has contributed to the polarization of national politics by replacing conservative Democrats, who often voted across party lines, with conservative Republicans who do not.”

But, despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding Landrieu’s loss and the demise of the Democratic Party in the South, all is not lost just yet. The “Southern Democrat” can rise again.

In a speech given at the National Press Club last month, Senator Chuck Schumer suggested that a little bit populism might be good for the Democratic Party. He argued that by taking more of a populist approach, Democrats can reach and appeal to Americans outside of the party’s typical comfort zone, and that includes the South.

Now, many are quick to suggest that, based on the current political climate in the South, a populist approach would never be successful there. But, the results of this past election seem to paint a very different picture.

In fact, one of the biggest takeaways overall from the 2014 midterms is that, nationally, progressive ideas and policies are very popular. All across America, progressive ballot initiatives won and they won big.

For example, in the very red Arkansas, voters approved a measure to raise that state’s minimum wage by a nearly 2-1 margin. And, in other traditionally red states like Alaska and Nebraska, minimum wage increases also passed by fairly large margins.

For even more proof of how successful a populist approach in the South can be, look at the life and career of Huey Long. Long served as the 40th Governor of Louisiana from 1928 to 1932, and was a U.S. Senator from 1932 until he was assassinated in 1935. Long was also a Democrat and populist, who routinely slammed the wealthy elite, corporations and big banks, and who called for a “Share the Wealth” program.

Long’s “Share the Wealth” program proposed wealth redistribution measures, like a net asset tax on corporations and the wealthy elite, and also called for increased spending on things like public works, education and the social safety net.

In his famous “Every Man a King” radio address to the nation, Long said that, “It is not the difficulty of the problem which we have; it is the fact that the rich people of this country -- and by rich people I mean the super-rich -- will not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.”

Huey Long’s successes can be repeated. The Democrat Party needs to reflect on Senator Landrieu’s loss Saturday, and learn from it. While the demise of the “Southern Democrat” may be historic, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Americans across the country, in red states from the Deep South to the Great Plains, favor the progressive ideas and policies that can get our country back on track.

Someone just needs to reach out to them. And, as Huey Long taught us, a little populism can go a long way, especially in the Deep South.

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