New York Times visits Tenn-Ark-Issippi

One of top political reporters for The New York Times, Jeff Zeleny, parachuted into the Delta to provide the scene for a more general story on that endangered political animal known as the white Southern Democrat. Zeleny begins: "The Southern white Democrat, long on the endangered list, is at risk of being pushed one step closer to extinction."  Zeleny was in Jonesboro last week when President Clinton visited to stump for Chad Causey, the Democratic nominee in Arkansas' 1st Congressional District (farm broadcaster Rick Crawford is the Republican nominee, though the times had a typo calling him "Rick Scott"); Clinton also hit Little Rock and later was in Oxford, Miss., to help out Democrat Travis Childers (the incumbent who is facing Republican Alan Nunnelee).

Here in Jonesboro, the First Congressional District has not sent a Republican to Washington since 1873. But the retirement of Representative Marion Berry has created the best opening that Republicans can recall, with Mr. Obama and his party viewed with suspicion. Democrats see the district as a firewall if they are to retain a foothold in the South.

Former President Bill Clinton, who spent his career navigating between his party's liberal sensibilities and the far more centrist instincts of Democrats in his home region, visited the district last week, passing through Batesville and Paragould before arriving for a rally in Jonesboro. He warned voters, "You are being played," and urged people to cast ballots with their economic self interest in mind.

"If it's a referendum on Democrats against some imagined perfection, we'll get whacked," Mr. Clinton said in a brief interview. "If it's a real, informed choice, we'll do fine."

At every stop, the Democratic Congressional candidate, Chad Causey, stood at Mr. Clinton's side, smiling as the former president offered a lesson on the economy, a defense of Mr. Obama and a plea for voters not to act out of anger on Election Day. Mr. Causey allowed Mr. Clinton to do most of the talking, but he pledged not to be a rubber stamp for the Obama administration or a Democratic Congress.

The story (which also references Roy Herron in Tennessee's 8th) reminded me of the many maps produced after President Obama's victory in the 2008 election, many of them showing that the only counties that increased their vote for the Republican nominee started up in northern Appalachia and swung down through the south. More interesting to me were the maps that showed percentage of white vote (gleaned from exhaustive exit polling) captured by Obama. There was no getting around the fact that no matter the political climate, white southern voters -- especially white southern men -- are not disposed to support Democrats. There are myriad reasons for this and I won't argue them here, but suffice to say that for Democrats to win in the south, they must either make more inroads with white voters -- especially white men -- or make darn sure nonwhite voters are motivated to come out and vote.

And as we have pointed out, so far in early voting here Shelby County, it is clear white voters are much more motivated to turn out (latest report showed 53.6 percent of early voters are registered white voters and only 20.3 percent are registered black voters, with the "other" category at 26.2 percent probably carved up similarly).

Links to maps are below:


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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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