Democrats Losing Too Many White Voters, Says Civil Rights Leader

Sean J. Miller, The Hill, January 18 2011

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In an interview, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said Democrats need to “go all out” to win back white Southern voters before the next election.

White voters preferred Republican candidates by almost two-to-one in the midterms last year. Their support helped the GOP win 22 seats in the states that make up the Old Confederacy. The Democrats’ only pickup in the region was the New Orleans district where the party holds a registration advantage.

Since November, there have been a string of defections by Southern Democratic state lawmakers, which has prompted renewed speculation about the party’s future in the region. Former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis (D) said Democrats should even consider running as Independents if they want to succeed.

Lewis, who was a civil rights activist before being elected to Congress in 1986, said he’s concerned the party is losing its diversity, which will make it difficult to reclaim the lost seats.

“We’ve got to go all out and get white voters, especially white men, to come back to the Democratic Party,” he told The Ballot Box. “I just think it’s important for the Democratic Party to roll out and try to reveal itself and not become a party that is split along racial lines.”

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“In 2010, he was not only not on the ticket, but really wasn’t being welcomed around, and so in a way he was kind of muted in being able to control what he is so good at. I think the fact that he is controlling his message [in 2012] will be helpful to Democrats and possibly bring more white voters to the table.”

Obama won the White House in 2008 with the support of more white voters than Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the previous Democratic presidential nominee, attracted in 2004.

Moreover, Obama was more popular than Kerry with whites in North Carolina and Virginia, two Southern states he won in the general election.

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In last year’s midterm election, white voters favored the GOP by a margin of 60 percent to 37, according to the national exit poll conducted by Edison Research. It was a higher percentage than the margin claimed by the GOP during its 1994 landslide victory.

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African-Americans remain the core of the Democratic Party’s Southern base. But the recent election of two Southern black Republicans to the House raised the possibility that even the party’s core support is shaky.

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