Despite the Republican presence in most legislatures and governors’ mansions across the South, Democratic leaders are looking to reclaim the region in 2014 and beyond.
Party leaders from 10 states, including North Carolina, recently formed the “Committee of the South” to combine resources and strengthen the Democratic party in the traditionally conservative region.
The Committee of the South will focus on three main objectives in strengthening southern chapters of the Democratic Party:
- Training and retaining Democratic campaign workers
- Gathering and sharing data
- Strengthening party messages
The committee aims to fortify regional Democratic candidates and establish a more powerful national presence, said Robert Dempsey, the executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party.
Eight of the 10 participating states have Republican-dominated legislatures — Kentucky has a majority-Democrat House and Virginia has a split Senate and a Republican House. Eight states are led by Republican governors.
Leaders from Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia are participating in the committee.
“What I’m looking for is a stronger, more unified party,” Dempsey said.
The committee’s goals include creating a regional network of Democratic campaign operatives, sharing demographic and electoral data and tailoring party messages to reach more Southern voters — including youth, Latinos and women.
“We have an evolving electorate, and we need to make sure we’re evolving as well,” Dempsey said.
Peter Vogel, president of UNC Young Democrats, said he supports the regional collaboration.
“I think it’s a very good idea because every state has their strengths,” he said.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor who specializes in Southern politics, said the Democratic efforts in the South are similar to the Republican Party’s national efforts to win the next presidential election.
“I think this group of 10 state party chairs is a reflection of the impulse of the political party out of power to figure out what it’s going to take to win again,” Guillory said.
But he said that one caveat to the committee’s regional approach is that the South is not as politically unified as it used to be.
In states like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida where Obama won in the 2008 presidential election, the Democratic party’s future outlook isn’t bleak, he said. But in other Southern states, like Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the Republican grasp remains strong.
Still, Dempsey said he is optimistic about the party’s viability in the South.
“To say that the Democratic Party is dead, that’s just not true,” Dempsey said. “We’re seeing a lot of possibilities to grow.”
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