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Southern Cultures 10.1 (2004) 104-108

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The Rise of Southern Republicans. By Earl Black and Merle Black. Belknap Press, 2002. 384 pp. Cloth $29.95.
The Politics of Cultural Differences. Social Change and Voter Mobilization Strategies in the Post-New Deal Period. By David C. Leege, Kenneth D. Wald, Brian S. Krueger, and Paul D. Mueller. Princeton University Press, 2002. 304 pp. Cloth $60.00

Election 2002 was kind to southern Republicans. When the votes were counted, the GOP controlled 13 of the South's 22 seats in the U.S. Senate and 76 of the region's 131 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This development is remarkable given the Democratic Party's historical dominance of southern politics and the relative speed of Republican growth. In 1950, for example, the eleven southern states sent exactly two Republicans, both representatives, to Washington, but roughly 50 years later Republicans constituted a majority.

Recent Republican victories in southern congressional campaigns were preceded by successful GOP presidential campaigns during the second half of the twentieth century, a period during which Republican presidential candidates learned how to connect with white southern voters whose world had been upended by racial and social shifts. Such changes left many whites open to Republican political appeals that were targeted to their concerns. Over time, these voters, most of whom were Democrats, grew comfortable voting for Republican presidential candidates, and by the 1990s this comfort had trickled down to congressional voting.

Taken together, two recent works of political science—The Rise of Southern Republicans by Earl and Merle Black and The Politics of Cultural Differences by David Leege, Ken Wald, Brian Krueger and Paul Mueller—provide insight into how the South's political evolution occurred. [End Page 104]

An accessible political history of the twentieth-century South, The Rise of Southern Republicans explores how racial, economic, and demographic changes created opportunities for the GOP to attract white southerners away from the Democratic Party and into a winning Republican coalition.

While the authors root their work in the standard account of southern political change, which holds that GOP presidential candidates beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964 tailored their appeals to white southerners angry over racial change, they advance the story in three ways.

First, the authors reappraise Ronald Reagan's role in southern politics. Reagan enjoyed considerable popularity among white southerners, and his campaigns were logical and successful extensions of previous GOP attempts, most notably Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy," to connect with those voters. Yet Reagan's impact was limited. Reagan brought about a Republican realignment of white southern conservatives, but he managed only to dealign white moderates from the Democratic Party. Many of these moderates in turn became the swing and
independent voters capable of deciding elections. Though Reagan's "partial realignment" significantly bolstered Republican competitiveness in the South, it was insufficient to ensure political dominance.

Second, the volume situates changes in the South's political preferences within changes to the region's racial composition and level of urbanization. The civil rights advancements of the 1960s shook the social order to which white southerners were accustomed, thereby creating an opportunity for ambitious Republican candidates to pull southern whites away from the Democratic Party through the use of race-based appeals. The flip side of these racial politics, however, was the loss of African American voters to the Democrats. At the same time, economic prosperity began attracting white migrants into the South's growing metropolitan areas. Not only were these new arrivals unschooled in the South's traditional Democratic culture, but they also altered the South's racial composition and provided the GOP with an expanded source of white votes that could offset African American losses.

These developments created the biracial electorate that shapes contemporary southern campaigns. By studying historical election returns from across the South, the authors show that southern Republicans perform best in highly urbanized areas with relatively small African American populations. Since Republicans receive little support from African Americans...