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Analysis: South is the GOP’s ace in the hole in stopping Democratic takeover of U.S. House

Democrats will need to flip 11 Southern seats or make make up the difference elsewhere

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — With President Trump’s approval ratings at historically low levels, Democrats have high hopes of taking back the U.S. House in 2018. But those hopes are tempered by a giant geographic obstacle standing in their way — namely, the South.

To reclaim the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats, shifting about 10 percent of the seats that Republicans now hold. And nearly half of the GOP caucus — 114 seats — is from the South, where Republican House members outnumber Democrats by 3-to-1.

So a 10 percent shift in the South would require winning 11 seats, in a region where Democrats won just two seats in 2016 (both in Florida and neither yet safe.) If Democrats fall short of that total, they will need to shift an even higher percentage of seats throughout the rest of the country — as much as 19 percent if they come up empty in the South.

And as Democrats plot and plan to add to their meager total of 40 Southern House seats, two recent special elections for open seats offer decidedly mixed omens on their chances for overturning the GOP’s hegemony.

In South Carolina’s 5th District, the swing away from Trump’s 2016 numbers in the special election was nearly 20 percent — not enough for Democrat Archie Parnell to win but a much bigger scare than Republicans had expected. Indeed, if that 20-point swing could be replicated across the South in 2018, 42 GOP-held seats could potentially be in play, more than Democrats would need to return Nancy Pelosi to the speaker’s chair.

Handel

But the results in the other race, in Georgia’s 6th District, pour substantial caution on such irrational exuberance. Republican Karen Handel kept the seat by running slightly ahead of Trump, in a race where Democrats spent a whopping $30 million and still came up short.

And this district in the northern Atlanta suburbs is exactly the kind of place where Democrats will need to compete to claw away at Republican dominance in the South next year — increasingly diverse, maturing suburbs whose upscale, educated voters, though conservative by inclination, are somewhat wary of Trump’s stewardship of the GOP brand.

If Democrats couldn’t win this race for an open seat in a low-turnout special election with a highly energized base and a president with historically low approval ratings, flipping these seats in 2018 will be a tall order indeed, particularly given Trump’s solid base of support in the South.

So where can Democrats start? Their first targets will be three majority Latino districts in metro Miami, all of which have large numbers of Cuban-American voters. Trump lost two of these districts and only narrowly won the third.

Veteran GOP U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Republicans will be hard pressed to keep her seat in a district Trump lost by 20 points. But in the other two districts, Democrats will have to unseat incumbents Carlos Curbelo, who has gone out of this way to distance himself from Trump, and Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been winning congressional elections with relative ease since 2002.

Democrats are also likely to target four other Southern districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump last year, which include three seats in Texas and one in Virginia. The GOP, however, has held three of these districts, in varying configurations, for decades.

Comstock

The Virginia seat, in the Washington D.C. suburbs, is held by Barbara Comstock, who first won it in 2014 and was narrowly re-elected in 2016. Even at this early date, she has already drawn six Democratic challengers in a district that, like the rest of Virginia, has become more hospitable to Democrats over the last decade.

In Texas, the climb for Democrats will be steeper. Clinton won the 32nd District in suburban Dallas, but that seat is held by Pete Sessions, a GOP titan who won by 52 points in 2016. She also won the 7th District in suburban Houston, where John Culberson ran well ahead of Trump to win by 12 points.

While Democrats appear eager to try to unseat both (Culberson already has seven challengers and Sessions nine), these districts have long Republican pedigrees reminiscent of Georgia’s 6th District, which was once represented by Newt Gingrich. Former President George H.W. Bush began his political career in the 7th District in 1967; former President George W. Bush’s Dallas home is in the 32nd.

Hurd

Democrats may have more luck in Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across rural West Texas. This district is part of an ongoing legal fight over the state’s 2013 redistricting map, and a panel of federal judges is considering changes that could make it more difficult for Republican Will Hurd to hang on for a third term.

After those Clinton-won districts, the next set of seats Democrats might logically target are those where Trump’s winning margin was less than 10 points and where it would take less than a 10-point swing from the 2016 congressional results to put the seat in Democratic hands. But that list contains a scant eight seats — four in Texas, two in North Carolina and one each in Florida and Virginia. None of them are open at this point.

After that, the pickings get even slimmer — places like Arkansas’s 2nd District, where a Democrat can carry Little Rock only to get swamped by the Republican vote in the suburbs, and Florida’s 3rd District, where liberal-leaning Gainesville is subsumed in a sea of more traditional, conservative Southern voters.  To be competitive in these districts, Democrats would have to commit to putting resources into races where chances of victory would appear, at the moment, to be rather remote.

So if Democrats can’t move the playing field into these second and third tiers, they have a reasonable shot at just seven Republican-held Southern seats, five of which have been in GOP hands for decades and all but one of which is likely to have an incumbent. And any anti-Trump tide that helps them in other parts of the country will likely not crest as high in the South.

With a lot of angry voters and a lot of luck, Democrats may indeed swing enough seats in 2018 to win control of the House. But as Republicans try to stop them, their ace in the hole is their dominance across the South, which should give them plenty of reason for confidence.

Analysis: Results in Confederate namesake counties show role of race in Democratic decline

Trump accelerates Republican shift in counties named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and the alarming (for Democrats) degree to which white Southerners have forsaken their traditional political roots.

Of course, the South’s march toward the GOP is not news. Today, the term “Solid South” has an entirely different connotation than it did during the days of FDR or Lyndon Johnson. However, these namesake counties do provide a window into how these shifts in party preference have occurred over time and the role that race played in them.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South is accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage, which bodes ill for future Democratic prospects.

In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to win the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848, he carried nine of the 12 Davis and Lee counties. By 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were splitting them six-to-six.

By 2000, Republican George W. Bush had flipped nine of the 12 namesake counties his way; his average share of the total votes cast for the two major party candidates in those counties that year was an impressive 64 percent. But in 2016, Trump trumped the younger Bush, carrying those same nine counties with an average of 70 percent of the two-party vote.

In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford’s share of the two-party vote topped 50 percent in just three namesake counties (in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky). But by 2016, Trump’s share of the two-party vote was more than 50 percent in nine counties and parishes; above 60 percent in eight; above 70 percent in four; and above a whopping 80 percent in two (Georgia and Kentucky).

The most dramatic changes were in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, where native Georgian Carter carried 79 percent of the vote in 1976 and Trump won 81 percent in 2016, and Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, where Carter won 62 percent and Trump 75 percent. However, even in majority black Lee County, Arkansas, Trump’s 16-point loss in 2016 was less than half of Ford’s 38-point defeat.

In addition to Lee County, Arkansas, the only namesake counties Trump lost in 2016 were Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, and Lee County, South Carolina, which are also majority black. However, even in these three counties, Trump carried a larger share of the two-party vote in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.

In fact, Trump improved on Romney’s result in 11 of the 12 namesake counties, save only Jeff Davis County, Texas, where Trump had to settle for merely matching Romney’s total.

The results in these namesake counties over time also illustrate the role race has played in the political realignment of the South.

In all seven of the overwhelmingly white namesake counties, the Republican share of the two-party vote was higher in 2016 than in 1976, by an average of 29 percent. Trump did better than Romney by an average of 4 percent.

By contrast, in majority-black Lee counties in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Republican two-party share fell by an average 2.5 percent from 1976 to 2016, but Trump outperformed Romney by the same 2.5 percent. These results indicate that the white Southern shift to the Republicans appears stronger than the corresponding black shift to the Democrats.

This is borne out by the results in Lee County, Arkansas, which has the smallest African-American population of any of the majority-black namesake counties (55 percent). There, the Republican share of the two-party vote actually climbed 11 percent between 1976 and 2016, and Trump beat Romney’s total by 5 percent.

Two of the namesake counties—Lee County, Florida, and Jeff Davis County, Texas—are outliers in that they have significant Latino populations. The Republican share of the two-party vote in both of those counties was higher in 2016 than it was in 1976, but Trump’s results were down from the numbers put up in 2000 and 2004 by George W. Bush, who, for a Republican, ran strongly with Latino voters.

The results in the namesake counties also illustrate the mountain which Democrats need to climb if they are to reduce Republican hegemony in the South.

The Democratic base once included small towns and rural areas across the Southern landscape, as well as urban areas. In 2016, Democrats still held the cities (with newfound and welcome signs of life in suburban Atlanta and Houston) and the mostly small rural counties with majority black populations, such as the namesake counties in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Democrats also do well in college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida.

But Democrats’ failure to compete for the votes of small town and rural white voters is what is killing them electorally, as the results in the Davis and Lee namesake counties without black majorities vividly illustrates.

Only one of these namesake counties is urban—Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers—and Lee County, Alabama, contains Auburn University. The rest of these counties and parishes are all rural, white areas where Messrs. Davis and Lee are no doubt remembered fondly and Jimmy Carter ran reasonably well—and where Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected dog catcher if she handed out $20 bills at the polling booth.

As a barometer of the past, these namesake counties illustrate how far Democrats have fallen in their former strongholds. But if Trump’s improved results over Romney’s are a barometer of the future, the bottom may not yet have been reached.

Analysis: Election results show Democrats are still a long way from being competitive in the South

Clinton performed worse in the South than Barack Obama in 2012

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

election-central-16(CFP) — Prior to the November 8 election, Democrats were publicly hopeful that they might finally be turning back Republican hegemony in the South, to the degree that pro-Hillary Clinton ads were running not only in the battleground states of Florida and North Carolina but also in reliably Republican Georgia and Texas.

Election results show that thinking was not just wishful, it was magical.CFP Facebook Mugshot

In fact, Clinton did comparatively worse in the South than Barack Obama did four years ago (which, oddly, seems to undercut the notion that the South’s resistance to Obama was based on his race.) A look at regional and state-by-state figures in the presidential race shows just how grim election night was for Southerners with a D attached to their name.

Donald Trump carried 53.3 percent of the vote and 13 out of 14 Southern states. That performance was not as good as Mitt Romney’s in 2012, when he came in with 54.4 percent (although Romney only carried 12 states.) However, the performance gap between Trump and Clinton was actually larger than the gap between Romney and Obama because Clinton’s underperformance was even worse.

She took just 42.5 percent of the Southern vote; Obama won 44.3 percent. Some of that was due to a larger third-party vote which, at 4.2 percent, was about 3 points more than it was in 2012. However, the gap between the Republican and Democratic share of the vote went up everywhere except Texas and Georgia and the lone Southern state Clinton carried, Virginia.

A look at raw vote totals shows the degree to which Clinton hemorrhaged Obama supporters.

In Mississippi, Clinton’s raw vote total was nearly 101,000 less than Obama’s in 2012, a huge shift in a state where less than 1.2 million votes were cast. Given that African-Americans play an outsized role in the state’s Democratic base, Clinton’s numbers are a clear sign that black voters did not turn out for her as they did for Obama.

But if Mississippi was bad for Clinton, Appalachia was even worse — down 51,000 votes in Kentucky, 92,000 in Tennessee, and 52,000 votes in West Virginia, where Trump’s percentage of the vote soared 15 points above Romney’s number. Those three states together have 270 counties; she carried exactly five.

In Arkansas, where Clinton was first lady and her husband governor for 10 years, she lost 16,000 votes and managed just 33.6 percent of the vote, 3.3 points lower than Obama’s vote in 2012. At the same time, Trump’s vote went up 34,000 over Romney’s, a net difference of nearly 50,000 votes.

Even in Virginia, which Clinton won, her vote total was 11,000 less than what Obama put up in 2016. She won because Virginia Trump’s vote total came in less than Romney’s by about 59,000 votes.

Meanwhile, as Clinton’s vote was fading, Trump’s was surging, beating 2012 GOP totals in every state except Virginia and Mississippi.

In Florida, where a growing Latino population was supposed to lead Clinton to victory, Trump added 442,000 votes to Romney’s tally, while Clinton added just 245,000 to Obama’s. In North Carolina, he added 69,000; she lost 16,000 in a battleground state she visited repeatedly.

In total across the South, Trump added more than 1 million votes to Romney’s haul; Clinton managed to add 448,000 by offsetting her losses in 11 states with gains in Texas, Florida and Georgia.

This led to some remarkable net vote changes between the two parties — 128,000 in Alabama, 166,000 in Kentucky, 150,000 in Tennessee and 118,000 in West Virginia.

The only glimmer of light at the end of this dark tunnel for Democrats was their improved performance in both Georgia and Texas.

In the presidential race, Democrats closed the gap with Republicans from 8 to 5 points in Georgia and 16 points to 9 points in Texas. Clinton also carried two big suburban counties in Atlanta, Cobb and Gwinnett, that had not gone Democratic in 40 years, along with Fort Bend County in suburban Houston, normally a no-man’s-land for a Democrat.

So perhaps Democratic wistfulness for those two states may not have been entirely misplaced, although that’s cold comfort when Trump carried Florida and North Carolina on his way to the White House.

And if the presidential results were grim, the U.S. Senate races were just as bad. Republicans  went eight-for-eight, with a race in Louisiana heading for a December 10 runoff in which Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy is favored to keep the seat in GOP hands.

Democrats didn’t even bother contesting Alabama, Oklahoma or South Carolina; they did recruit credible candidates in the rest of the races, such as Conner Eldridge in Arkansas, Jim Barksdale in Georgia and Jim Gray in Kentucky. But all lost by double-digit margins.

The Democrats’ best shots to pick up GOP-held seats were thought to be in Florida, where U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy was challenging Marco Rubio, and in North Carolina, where Deborah Ross was challenging Richard Burr. Murphy lost by 8 points; Ross, by 7. Both actually underperformed Clinton in their states.

The only good news for Democrats came in races for governor in West Virginia, where Jim Justice kept the office in Democratic hands, and in North Carolina, where Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper appears to have ousted Republican Governor Pat McCrory, although that race may be headed for a recount.

Analysis: Poll shows possible Trump weakness in the South due to minority voters

Washington Post poll indicates unexpected states may be in play

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — When it comes to wondering which way Southern states might fall in this year’s presidential election, conventional wisdom holds that, outside of a few states along the Atlantic seaboard, Donald Trump doesn’t have a thing to worry about.CFP Facebook Mugshot

A paucity of public polling in most of the South also means that we don’t have any way to judge whether this conventional wisdom is wise. But now, the Washington Post and Survey Monkey have come along with an unusual poll of all 50 states that offers some incredible results for a number of places in the South.

In fact, should these results be borne out in November, incredible won’t be a sufficiently strong adjective.

In eight of the 14 Southern states, the poll found that Trump’s lead over Hillary Clinton was only in the single digits—not just in battleground states such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia but in some rock-ribbed GOP states such as Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas.

In Arkansas, which Mitt Romney carried by 23 points in 2012, Trump led Clinton by just 9 points in the poll; in South Carolina, by just 7. And in Mississippi—a state that hasn’t gone Democratic since 1980—Trump’s lead over Clinton was a mere 3 points. No, that was not a misprint—3 points in Mississippi.

In perhaps the biggest shock of all, the poll found that Texas, with its bounty of 38 electoral votes, was a flat-out tie, with both candidates at 40 percent in a state a Democrat hasn’t carried since 1976. (How long ago was that? Donald Trump was still a year away from marrying wife No. 1, Ivana.)

Of course, one must greet the results of any poll showing Trump in possible trouble in Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas with a considerable dollop of skepticism. Casting more doubt on these findings is the fact that this poll was an online survey conducted on Survey Monkey’s platform that did not employ a random sample and, thus, a margin of error can’t be calculated.

However, despite those shortcomings, what makes this poll noteworthy is its extremely large sample size — 74,000 registered voters, about 70 times the size of a typical poll — which could compensate for some of the measurement and sampling issues posed by a non-random sample.

Also, battleground state results in this poll are consistent with other public polling in those states. (In Florida, for example, the poll showed Clinton with a 2-point lead, which is close to what the other polls have found.) And there is no reason to believe this methodology is inherently more inaccurate in non-battleground states.

So what might explain these wacky results that so assault our conventional wisdom? The answer could lie in Trump’s pronounced unpopularity with minority voters.

In Mississippi, for instance, the black voting age population is about 35 percent, and blacks register and vote at rates comparable to whites. So if Clinton is taking almost all of the black vote, she would need to capture just 25 percent of the white vote to win. True, President Obama couldn’t pull that off against Romney four years ago, but, then again, the GOP was much more united behind Romney than it is behind Trump.

And in Texas, blacks and Latinos make up an even larger percentage of the voting age population, 44 percent. If Clinton can galvanize those minority voters in large numbers, as little as 20 percent of the Lone Star State’s white, non-Latino vote could be enough to win (that’s a conservative estimate taking into account the fact that Latino voters lag black and white voters in their registration and participation rates.)

Florida, where Clinton led in the poll, has a minority voting age population of 31 percent, and, unlike in Texas, Latino voters in the Sunshine State register and turnout to vote at rates comparable to white voters. So with just 30 percent of the white, non-Latino vote, she could win.

A look at polls results those Southern states where Trump is doing well also supports the premise that minority antipathy may be what’s bedeviling him in the region. He was winning by more than 20 points in Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma and West Virginia, all states with relatively small minority populations. But in three of the five states where the black voting age population is more than 25 percent, his lead was in single digits.

The only states where the correlation between high minority population and a reduced level of Trump’s level of support didn’t hold up were Alabama (where Trump led by 26 points) and Louisiana (where he led by 16.)

Arkansas—where the black voting age population is only 15 percent and he was only ahead by 9 points—stands out as an anomaly against the premise that a paucity of minority voters leads to wide margins for Trump. Then again, Hillary Clinton did live in Arkansas for nearly 20 years before decamping for New York, and her husband was elected governor of the Natural State five times. Perhaps they have more residual political roots than Republicans are anticipating.

So should we all put some money down on a Clinton victory in Arkansas, Mississippi or Texas? Despite the intriguing results from this poll, the odds of that happening would still have to be considered rather long. But this has been a political year where the only thing we’ve been able to expect is the unexpected. So it is not inconceivable that, if Clinton can galvanize the region’s minority vote and Trump runs behind Romney, election night might turn out more interesting than usual across the South.

Analysis: Libertarians get dream ticket, but will voters take them seriously?

Johnson and Weld will need to overcome some of their party’s more colorful positions

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) –The Libertarian Party met over Memorial Day weekend in Orlando, deciding to invest its fortunes with two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts.CFP Facebook Mugshot

For a third party in America, that’s an unusually high-powered pedigree. And given the deep unpopularity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Libertarians left Florida with high hopes of a breakthrough in 2016, particularly if their ticket can get into the fall debates.

But the height of the hurdle that Johnson and Weld face became apparent during the party’s presidential debate, when the candidates were asked if states should be able to issue driver’s licenses.

One after another, the candidates emphatically said no—except Johnson, who pointed out that it might not be such a bad idea for the government to make sure that people roaming around on the roadways have been vetted for basic competency.

Johnson was booed.

Here are some other statements made during the debate: Crystal meth should be as legal as tomatoes. Public education should be abolished. The Pentagon should be funded with bake sales. The second-place finisher in the presidential race, Austin Peterson, even opined that in the future, he hoped that gay people will not only be able to marry but to defend their marijuana fields with assault rifles.

And the vice presidential votes were being tabulated, a candidate for the party chairmanship took the stage, turned on some music and stripped down to his skivvies. That’s probably something we won’t see this summer in Philadelphia or Cleveland.

It was all rather entertaining, and, unlike in the Democratic and Republican contests, there was a marked absence of personal attacks between the candidates. Good for them. The question, however, is whether these positions can advance a run for the White House. Or is rigid ideological consistency the hobgoblin of electoral success?

The key to victory for any political party is to cobble together enough broad constituency groups to reach critical mass. But the Libertarians’ mishmash of unusual positions is likely to subtract from their coalition, not add to it.

For instance, religious conservatives, particularly in the South, aren’t going to cotton to their support for legalizing drugs or the fact that Johnson quit his job as head of a cannabis company to run for president. National security conservatives are going to find it difficult to get behind a militantly non-interventionist foreign policy and a drastically downsized military.

Likewise, Bernie Sanders supporters turned off by Clinton will be wary of a party that wants to eliminate virtually all social programs, turning instead to voluntary charity to take care of the old, the sick and the poor. They’re also going to have problems with a party that is as zealous in defending gun rights as the NRA.

Johnson and Weld, with their political pedigrees, may be able to transcend some of this baggage. Indeed, during the debate, Johnson often seemed to be the voice of reason, as when he said he would have signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (for which he was also booed.)

Certainly, Johnson can’t be held responsible for all the wild things Libertarians say, just as Republicans can’t all be held responsible for some of Trump’s more incendiary utterances. But if he and Weld distance themselves from some of the more outlandish positions of their party, they are going to draw ire from their own partisans, who proved in Orlando that they take a rather dim view of apostasy.

The Libertarians’ fondest hope is that Johnson can get to 15 percent in the polls, getting him into the debates. Then, the American public will see him as a viable alternative to Trump and Clinton, and he will catch fire, propelling Libertarians, if not to the White House, then at least to major party status.

But this presupposes that voters’ dislike of the major party nominees will be strong enough to overshadow what it is that the Libertarian Party actually believes. And Johnson has another hurdle—convincing voters he can run the country without a single member of his party in Congress. He would be forced to make an unending series of compromises with Republicans and Democrats, and compromise is something to which his party seems particularly allergic.

Of course, we have come to expect the unexpected during this topsy-turvy 2016 campaign, in which a socialist and a reality TV star are two of the last three major party candidates standing. So maybe, just maybe, Johnson and Weld can pull of the miracle. But if they do, it will be in spite of the Libertarians’ colorful positions, rather than because of them.

Analysis: Trump, Clinton’s Southern primary wins expose weaknesses for the fall

Trump needs to run the table in the South. Can Clinton stop him?

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern-states-lg(CFP) — The primary and caucus season across the South has largely come and gone (Republicans have voted everywhere except West Virginia; Democrats, Kentucky and West Virginia), leaving behind some clear trends and evidence about how things might play out in the fall.

CFP Facebook MugshotFirst the trends: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton cut through the region like Sherman on steroids. She won every state save Oklahoma, most by whopping margins; he took everything except Texas and Oklahoma, which he lost to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.

Given that Clinton runs best among African-American voters, and Trump’s strongest support is among white working-class voters, this was no surprise. Both of those demographic groups dominate the Democratic and Republican vote, respectively, across the South.

The irony for Clinton, however, is that she is running extraordinarily well in a region where, as conventional wisdom would have it, she doesn’t have a prayer of winning in the fall. And the weak appeal she has exhibited among white voters turned up in Oklahoma, one of the South’s whiter states, where U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders beat her.

That bears repeating: An avowed socialist beat Clinton in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, the thrice-married, frequently profane rich guy from Long Island rolled from Paragould to Pascagoula to Pensacola, with gobs of religious conservatives apparently willing to overlook his colorful biography in order to make America great again. More impressively, he beat Cruz in a region where the Texan should have done much better.

However, the primary results showed that there could be challenges ahead for Trump in his quest to keep the solid Republican South solid in the fall should he be the nominee.

And a Southern sweep is vital to his hopes of winning the White House. The last four times the Republican candidate carried the region, he won; the last four times he didn’t, he lost. (Bill Clinton carried four Southern states; Obama, three.)

For all of his victories, Trump did not crack 50 percent anywhere in the South, although he came close in Mississippi. That means that even in a region where his brand of populism seems to have struck a chord, more Republicans were opposed to voting for him than voted for him. In six states, he didn’t even crack 40 percent.

And it is also instructive to look at some of the places where Trump didn’t win.

He lost Atlanta and two of its suburban counties; Richmond and its suburbs; Little Rock; Oklahoma City; Columbia and Charleston, S.C.; Miami-Dade County (although that was to hometown U.S. Senator Marco Rubio); and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. In Tennessee, he barely carried Nashville and Memphis, winning only about 30 percent of the vote. He lost all of the major cities in Texas to Cruz, who, admittedly, had the home court advantage.

These results show that Trump’s political act may not be wearing as well with urban and suburban Southern Republicans as it is in small towns and rural areas. That probably won’t matter in the fall in places such as Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina. But if he can’t win those reluctant-for-Trump voters over to his side by November, it could matter in other places.

We already know that Virginia, North Carolina and Florida will be battleground states because Obama carried all three. And he did so running against Republicans that had, more or less, the united backing of their party. Trump doesn’t have that now, and it’s unclear if he will.

And then there’s Georgia, which has a large and politically active African-American population that will crawl across broken glass to vote for Clinton. If Trump continues to show weakness in Atlanta and its suburbs, the Peach State could also be in play.

Tennessee and Arkansas are probably longer shots, primarily because Clinton will have fewer African-American voters on which she can rely. However, there is still a residual strain of affection for Clinton in some quarters in Arkansas, where she spent 10 years as first lady.

Of course, Clinton’s weakness among white voters shows why she may be the Democrat least equipped to carry anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. After all, if even white Democrats aren’t voting for her, how is she going to fare when white people who aren’t Democrats are voting against her? That hurdle could be too high to jump, even with extraordinary support among black voters.

Remember, though, that Clinton doesn’t have to win everything in the South; just two or three states could make Trump’s ascension to the White House darn near impossible. He either needs to run the table or find states elsewhere to make up the difference.

Can he do it? Well, Trump has proven that he has a knack for defying the odds, so a wise pundit doesn’t bet against him. But the primary results show it may prove a more difficult feat than the Donald expects.

Analysis: Road to the 2016 GOP nomination frontloaded in the South

13 of the 14 Southern states have primaries or caucuses before March 15

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — For the gaggle of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination, success or failure is likely to hinge on how well they can perform in a primary calendar that is frontloaded with Southern contests.

Between February 20, when South Carolina holds its primary, and March 15, when Florida and North Carolina vote, 13 of the 14 Southern states will hold either primaries or caucuses.

CFP Facebook MugshotIn that three-week stretch, a whopping 824 delegates will be up for grabs in the South, about two-thirds of the 1,237 delegates needed to cinch the nomination. And 471 delegates will be decided on a single day, March 1, when seven Southern states will vote in what is being dubbed the SEC Primary (albeit with a bit of ACC and Big 12 mixed in.)

Having almost all of the Southern states vote early (save West Virginia) is a new wrinkle in this year’s primary calendar that will no doubt add to the region’s clout in the nominating process. So it is perhaps not surprising that nine Southern Republicans decided to run in 2016, with six still in the race (as of this writing.)

While the early states might weed some of them out, the Southern frontloading of the calendar might provide temptation for the also-rans to hang on until they get to more hospitable territory, as there is barely more than a month between New Hampshire and Florida.

However, the last two GOP primary battles argue against the idea that Southerners might be particularly hospitable to Southern candidates. In 2008 and 2010,  candidates from outside the South won twice as many Southern contests (16) as candidates from the South (8).

And if the field remains crowded, the rules under which delegates are allocated could leave Southern delegations fractured as the process heads north and west.

Here is how the process generally works: Each state gets a number of delegates who are selected statewide, and it also gets three delegates for each congressional district. The delegates are allocated based on how well a candidate performs across the state and in each congressional district, and the state’s three members of the Republican National Committee are automatically delegates.

In most of the states, there is a threshold percentage that a candidate has to meet before being eligible for statewide or district delegates, ranging from 5 to 20 percent. In a heavily split field, that means that candidates who don’t finish near the top may not get any delegates, but the delegations could be sliced and diced if multiple candidates cross the threshold.

In five states, candidates who win more than 50 percent of the vote statewide or in a district take all of the delegates; in Tennessee, that threshold is 66 percent. But if the field still remains fractured in mid-March, it is unlikely that any candidate will be able to win an outright majority to sweep most, if not all, of a state’s delegates.

Also, two of the larger states–North Carolina, with 72 delegates, and Virginia, with 49–have no threshold, with all delegates allocated proportionally based on the statewide vote. So no one is likely to sweep either of those states.

The two outliers in this process are South Carolina, which votes Feb. 20, and Florida, which votes March 15. In South Carolina, with 50 total delegates, the statewide winner gets all of the statewide delegates, and the winner of each congressional district receives all three. In Florida, with 99 total delegates, the statewide winner takes everything.

So, for instance, if one of Florida’s two favorite sons in the race–U.S. Senator Marco Rubio or former Governor Jeb Bush–lands in first place by even a single vote, he gets all 99 delegates and the other gets nothing. And if neither of them places first, they will have no Sunshine State support at the convention in Cleveland.

The two biggest prizes in the Southern primary calendar are Florida and Texas, where 155 delegates will be up for grabs on March 1.

While Bush and Rubio will be competing in their home state, only one candidate still in the face hails from Texas–U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. And Texas is one of the states where, if a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the statewide or district vote, he or she gets all of the delegates.

So if Cruz, a favorite son with statewide political roots, could win a majority in Texas, he would need to win a majority in just 19 of the state’s 36 congressional districts in order to match the delegate haul that Rubio or Bush might take out of Florida–an uphill climb in a fractured race, but doable.

The biggest wildcard heading into the Southern primaries is what the region’s all-important block of religious conservatives will do. In 2008, when they coalesced around Mike Huckabee, he won six Southern states; in 2012, when they got behind Rick Santorum, he won four. The South was the best region for both, although it did not work for either of them in the end.

 

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