By Hastings Wyman –
The South will play a crucial role in the 2016 presidential contest, both in the nominating process and in the General Election. For the Republicans, Dixie’s plethora of primaries come quickly after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary and will probably determine the nominee. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s strong support among African Americans in the Southern primaries should cement her already commanding lead for her party’s nomination. And in the General Election, at least three Southern states are likely to be competitive and may well determine the outcome of the race for the White House.
Until Iowa and New Hampshire vote, it is difficult to forecast a Republican winner in South Carolina or the rest of the SEC (for the Southeastern Conference). Donald Trump has polled well in almost all of the Southern states at one point or another; so has Ted Cruz. And if a more center-right candidate, such as Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, or John Kasich, gets anointed in the Granite State, he might make a run for it in the Palmetto State, where the Republican establishment often prevails.
On the Democratic side, African-American voters are a major component in most Southern Democratic primaries. In six of the Southern states, (AL, GA, LA, MS, SC and TX), black voters account for 50% or more of the Democratic Primary turnout. Polls show that Clinton is winning substantial majorities among non-white voters over Bernie Sanders, the Senator from Vermont, a state that is only about 1% black. Moreover, Clinton has been endorsed by 14 of the 18 Congressional Black Caucus members from the South, and all four Latino Representatives from Texas.
The Southern primary schedule
February 20: South Carolina for the GOP
February 27: South Carolina for the Democrats.
March 1: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
March 5: Kentucky (caucuses) and Louisiana
March 8: Mississippi
March 15: Florida and North Carolina
In the General Election, whether the South is solidly Republican may be the key to victory for the GOP. Every Republican president elected since 1984 has won all of the states of the old Confederacy, and in 1980, Ronald Reagan carried every Southern state except Georgia, which stuck with its former governor, Jimmy Carter.
Moreover, the ability of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to break into the South was an important part of their national victories. Clinton won five Southern states (AR, GA, KY, LA & TN) in 1992 and five in 1996 (AR, FL, KY, LA & TN). Obama won Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in 2008; in 2012, he lost North Carolina, but carried the other two. African Americans were an important part of these Democratic victories. Black voters account for about 15% of the electorate in Florida, 21% in North Carolina, and 19% in Virginia. Their heavy turnout in these three states were major factors in Obama’s victories in both elections.
Next November, competitive races in Florida and Virginia could make the difference for either party. Since 1952, every Republican president – from Dwight Eisenhower through George W. Bush – was elected with the support of Florida and Virginia. So if the Democratic nominee – presumably Hillary Clinton – wins either state, GOP chances will be sharply reduced, if not eliminated.
The popular vote has reflected the electoral vote trends in the South. In every year from 1984 through 2012, the GOP’s presidential margin in the old Confederacy has exceeded the party’s share in the rest of the country. In 1984, Reagan won 62% of the popular vote in the South, but 58% in the non-South. In 2012, Romney won 54% of the South’s vote, but only 44% of the vote outside of the South.
In sum, in both the major party nomination battles and the General Election, Southern states will play a critical role in 2016. Stay tuned to Southern Political Report!