No subject tends to confound political pundits—or national Democrats and liberals in general—quite like Southern politics. And if you don't believe it, take a gander at the oft-cited 2006 manual for Democratic Dixie-bashing, Tom Schaller's Whistling Past Dixie, which bizarrely recommended that the party abandon the nation's largest and fastest-growing region (not to mention its largest African-American population) and just let the GOP have it. Fortunately, President Obama ignored that sage advice and won three electoral-vote-rich Southern states in 2008.
But old habits of stereotyping the South as incurably right-wing die hard—if they die at all. This year, liberal pundits fretting about losing the Democrats' majority in the U.S. Senate were asking the same old questions: How could the Democrats possibly hope to hold onto their Senate seats in such snake-handling, Confederate flag-waving, gay-bashing, Obamacare-hating backwaters as Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina?
- As yet another round of polling confirmed this week, the South is poised to deliver yet another set of surprises to ignorant Yankees in November. Not only are incumbent Democratic senators in the South looking strong, the region just might give the Democrats a big old bonus by taking Republican seats in Georgia (gasp!) and Kentucky (say what?).
- Pass the smelling salts to your fellow liberal Dixiephobes, because the news gets even stranger than that. The Southern Democrats aren't all winning just because they're mimicking the old Republican Lite schtick. Some of them are winning because they're acting kind of like actual Democrats.
- In Arkansas, left-for-dead Senator Mark Pryor holds a double-digit lead over his supposedly unbeatable Republican challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton. Why? In no small part because Pryor supports the state's "private option" health care plan, which uses Medicaid funds to help cover 150,000 more Arkansans—and he's making hay with Cotton's desire to repeal the law.
- At the Washington Post, Greg Sargent now wonders if "perhaps, in the context of the Arkansas race, it’s also worth revisiting the conventional wisdom that Obamacare is nothing but a hideous liability for Democrats, and can only shower Republicans with political gold from now until election day."
- Meanwhile in North Carolina and Louisiana, Senators Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu are using Republicans' failures to accept federal Medicaid funds against them as well—and their re-election prospects are looking better than expected.
- Even odder to tell, Hagan—though nobody would ever mistake her for a raging liberal—is both pro-choice on abortion and a supporter of same-sex marriage!
- So is Michelle Nunn, the moderate Democrat who's narrowly leading all her possible Republican opponents in Georgia's open race to replace retiring Senator Saxby Chambliss. Happily for Nunn, and for Democrats, the multiple Republicans in the race are doing their damnedest to demolish each other with vicious personal attacks—the latest one, going after apparent front-runner David Perdue, ends with the subtle message "Perdue Stinks," superimposed over the butt-end of a baby who's about to go potty. (Seriously, do not miss this video.)
- But it's Kentucky that could deliver the most delightful result of all, if Alison Lundergan Grimes can knock off the Senate's champion Obama-blocker, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The two are neck-and-neck in the polls, and McConnell's having to deal with a Tea Party challenger in his primary. Republicans are worried enough that they're already bombarding the state with big-dollar anti-Grimes ads.
- But even the most ardent defender of Southern Democrats' honor can't deny that while the broad political stereotypes might be off-base, campaigns in these states still have their elements of old-style farce. To wit, this recent headline in Louisville's Courier-Journal: "Alison Grimes drawn into Kentucky cockfighting debate." Plus ça change ...