There’s some debate about the exact wording Lyndon Baines Johnson used after he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the most common version of the story, LBJ referenced the future of the Democratic Parry and said, “There goes the South for a generation.”
Fifty years later, that prediction is holding up quite well. Zach Roth reported over the weekend:
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Louisiana Senate runoff election Saturday night, giving the GOP its 54th seat in the upper chamber when Congress reconvenes next year.The Republican Party now holds every statewide office in the swath of seven states that used to make up the Solid South for Democrats: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
That phrase, “Solid South,” used to describe Democratic control of the South, which was completely dominant in the generations that followed the Civil War. It now has the exact opposite meaning – it took a half-century, but the region has completely flipped.
Indeed, as Nate Cohn reported, “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.”
Think about that for a moment. In the early 1960s, Democrats controlled every Senate seat in the South, every governor’s office, and every state legislative chamber. Now, from the Lone Star State to the Carolinas – or more specifically, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas – Democratic control has dropped to literally nothing.
Landrieu’s Senate seat has been held by a Democrat every year since 1883, but no longer.
It’s worth emphasizing a caveat or two. For example, by defining the “South” this way, a couple of states are obviously left out: namely, Florida and Virginia. Both have regional, cultural, and historical similarities with their Southern brethren, but Republican influence here is far more limited – Florida has a popular Democratic U.S. senator, who’s won three statewide races with relative ease, while Virginia has become one of the nation’s key “purple” states, electing two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor in recent elections.
President Obama, incidentally, won both of these states in 2008 and again in 2012.
That said, GOP supremacy throughout the rest of the Old Confederacy is nevertheless obvious. The first big shift towards realignment was in 1994, but in the Obama era, the bottom simply fell out for Democratic support in the South.
Is this a permanent shift? The fact that the Solid South was once an unbreakable Democratic stronghold should probably drive home the point that such predictions are folly. Indeed, while there are competing explanations for the South moving sharply to the right, much of it having to do with race and culture, as states like Georgia and North Carolina become more diverse, there’s no reason to assume it’ll be another generation or two before Dems will a statewide race in the region.
In the meantime, though, 2014 clearly marks the end of an era.
* Update/Correction: Some of the states in the Old Confederacy have some Dem statewide officials, including Mississippi’s AG, for example. But the larger point still stands, and the 100%/0% assessment refers to U.S. senators, governors offices, and state legislative majorities.