To Ron Smith interview George McGovern on...


April 06, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WHILE LISTENING to Ron Smith interview George McGovern on the radio, I got out a book of maps that shows how the nation has voted for president. In 1972, the year George was the Democratic nominee, no Southern state voted Democratic.

That was a first, but not a last. In 1984 and 1988, same thing. Yet the Democrats cannot win the presidency without getting a good Southern vote. Never have, never will.

Jimmy Carter carried 10 of the 11 Southern states. Lyndon Johnson got 6 of the 11 in 1964. John Kennedy in 1960 was elected by carrying the Southern electoral vote 81-33-14 (6 1/2 states to 3 to 1 1/2 for a third party candidate).

Now, here's a sobering statistic I was reminded of this week by Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory: In 1960, John Kennedy got 52 percent of the white vote in the South. (Imagine if he'd been a Baptist!) JFK got less than 50 percent of the white vote outside the South.

LBJ got 45 percent in 1964, Hubert Humphrey got 19 in 1968, McGovern got 19 in 1972, Walter Mondale got 28 in 1984, Michael Dukakis got 32 in 1988, native son Jimmy Carter got 47 winning in 1976 but only 37 losing in 1980.

Meanwhile, the South has been growing. The 128 electoral votes of 1960 will be 147 in 1992. I repeat: There is no way the Democrats can elect a president without Southern electoral votes. That's bad news, if, as Professor Black believes, Democrats almost certainly cannot win those votes. Only about 24 percent of white Southerners are still "core Democrats," he says. If every black and moderate and liberal white in the region votes Democratic, Republicans still win.

lTC Black says he does not foresee Democrats as they are conceived in the South today ever winning a presidential race in those states unless the Republicans produce something like another depression or another Watergate. Since both of those are unlikely, it seems to me the Democrats have got to come up with a ticket that re-casts the Southern conception of the party.

Putting a Southerner on the ticket isn't enough. That worked in 1976, but it wouldn't work now. In fact it failed in 1980 with Carter at the top of the ticket (carried one Southern state) and in 1988 with Lloyd Bentsen at the bottom (none). The core Republican vote has grown too much since '76.

Time to try an all-Southern ticket. Virginia's conservative black Gov. Doug Wilder ought to be one candidate. Why? Because he symbolizes the awakening of the principal beneficiaries of Democratic liberalism to the fact that it won't sell anymore and has gotta go. White Southerners have been waiting for someone like Wilder to say that.

Wilder got about 45 percent of the white vote in Virginia in 1989. A ticket of Wilder and Sam Nunn or Lloyd Bentsen or even the moderate Albert Gore Jr. might do that well in the South in 1992, and if it did, a Democrat would be sitting in the White House in 1993.

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