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Book critique off-base

Were I not a UNC-trained political scientist, I would have chuckled at Kirk Ross's comments about my new book, Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South ("Say what?" Oct. 11), and moved along to something more cerebrally challenging, like a Sudoku puzzle with only the eights missing. But Ross, who starts the first paragraph of his column with "Normally, I wouldn't trash a book I haven't read ...," and the second with "Without even delving into the convoluted math that Schaller uses ...," provides too easy a foil. Let me share two sets of numbers, and leave it to Indy readers to decide if they're so "convoluted" that my "premise is about as off-base as it gets":

1. I do not claim that none of the three most recent Democratic presidents were really from the South. What I explain is that Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter were native Southerners who also won on the strength of Southern votes, whereas Bill Clinton won with a non-Southern majority. Indeed, Carter's margins over Gerald Ford in 1976 were 9.5 points larger in the 11 Southern states than the other 39, whereas Clinton's margins over George H.W. Bush in 1992 were precisely the opposite--9.5 points larger in the non-South. That's a 19-point net swing in the regional performance of two Democratic nominees in just 16 years, and yet Clinton still won twice with at least 270 non-Southern electoral votes. That makes Clinton the first northern Southern Democratic president in history. Since then, Al Gore came within 7,200 New Hampshire votes of winning without the South while carrying the popular vote; and--but for the switch of roughly 59,000 Ohioans--John Kerry would have won while losing the popular vote.

2. Ross claims next that the South is turning blue. Dead wrong: The trend is just the opposite. In 2004, Democrats gained state legislative seats nationwide despite losing net seats in the South, and seven of the eight state legislative chambers they captured were outside the South. The Democrats' net gains in the U.S. House and Senate outside the South were cancelled out by the GOP's re-redistricting in Texas and capture of five Southern Senate seats opened by Democratic retirements. George W. Bush's margins in 2004 widened over 2000 in a set of mostly Southern states which, with a few exceptions, he carried comfortably both times. Looking ahead to 2006, the storyline is the same: Democrats are expected to make major gains in non-Southern governorships; their five most likely Senate pickups are outside the region; and about 75 percent of the Republican-held House seats likely to flip are in the Northeast and Midwest. The regional pattern of gaining outside the South while losing or breaking even inside the South is painfully clear.

Does Ross really think this math is "convoluted"? I'd normally read a sample of his columns before judging his journalistic credibility. But by the low example he sets, aren't I within my rights to instead conclude that his critiques are about as "off-base" as they get?

Thomas F. Schaller (Ph.D., UNC '97)
Washington, D.C.

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