Hard Out There for a Democrat

Adam Nossiter’s New York Times article on the Mississippi Senate race features a blunter-than-usual look at the source of Democratic Party troubles in the South:

The numbers in this state, which has perhaps the most racially polarized electorate in the nation, do not favor the Democrat: whites, a majority, overwhelmingly vote Republican, and 85 percent of them voted for President Bush in 2004. Even if there is a record black turnout, Mr. Musgrove would have to receive about 30 percent of the white vote to win.

And of course it’s no coincidence that Mississippi is both racially polarized and one of the states with the largest African-American population. Writing a long time ago about a very different era in the United States, V.O. Key observed in his classic Southern Politics in State and Nation that the so-called “black belt” of heavily African-American counties in Dixie was the stronghold of the white south’s peculiar brand of rightwingery. The advent of the Voting Rights Act has, of course, substantially altered southern political dynamics but the overall pattern in which blacker areas produce white voters ever-more-interested in checking black political power remains the same.

Where you see breakthroughs for Democrats is in places like Virginia and perhaps North Carolina that combine a substantial African-American population with increasing numbers of white educated professionals who don’t exhibit this same pattern and can form viable political coalitions with African-Americans.