Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama, said he saw “tremendous potential” in several Southern states.The key here, of course, is turnout, something the GOP in states like Florida, Mississippi and Alabama have long suppressed through various mechanisms, including misleading or even lying about election day, intimidation and harassment of black voters, and the denial of basic civil rights to people who have paid their debt to society.
“If you go in and look at the number of unregistered voters in demographic groups that are important to Barack’s candidacy — younger voters, African-American voters — the potential is just incredible,” Mr. Hildebrand said.
And yet since the South began to shift away from the Democrats in the 1960s, it has become one of the biggest and reddest of the Republican strongholds. In the last two presidential elections, the Democrats failed to carry any of the Southern states. Although recent Democratic nominees have typically gotten about 9 out of 10 of the votes of Southern blacks, they still need a substantial chunk of the white vote to prevail. Political scientists put that figure at close to 40 percent, though it depends on the state, and the Democrats have rarely gotten it.
Certainly, Obama's formula could work.
The only times since 1972 that the Democrats have carried more than a third of the Southern white vote, according to exit polls, were when Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, both Southerners, were atop the ticket. In 1996, for example, Mr. Clinton got the votes of 36 percent of Southern whites and 87 percent of Southern blacks, and carried 5 of the 13 Southern states.It could work. It's possible.
Mr. Obama’s Southern strategy relies on significantly increasing black registration and turnout, as he did in the primary season. Mr. Hildebrand said that by some estimates there are 600,000 unregistered black voters in Georgia alone. The higher the black share of the vote, the lower the requirement for garnering white votes. But the Obama camp argues that it can increase its share of the white vote as well by focusing on younger, more progressive whites.
But it's risky, to be sure. So many factors could play into this strategy that it's impossible to be certain that it's a winning one, and that's not making any judgements on the strategy per se. Factors like the ones mentioned above, which we can now anticipate will see a skyrocketing number of voter purges in Southern states and challenges to voter's authenticity at the polls as Republicans attempt to bully voters away from the polls.
And then the strategy itself has some weaknesses: young voters are traditionally the least committed voters to the electoral process, so the "young white professional" vote that Obama is counting on could dissolve away with any October surprises. That would mean Obama would still have to pick up something on the order of 30% of the aggregate working class white voter, an order of magnitude he was barely able to accomplish when it was just Democratic white working class voters.
There is one last possibility: that this strategy has been planted by Obama as a challenge to McCain to defend turf he's already "won". Wars, which in this instance includes political campaigns, are not won by who has the most in his arsenal, but by whom can most effectively manage his resources to victory.
After all, Hillary Clinton had a commanding amount of money going into primary season and look where it got her!