In an instructive piece in The Atlantic, “Can Democrats Win Back the Deep South?” RP Loranne Ausley’s work in creating the “Southern Project” was highlighted. Check out this excerpt:
In 2000, a national Democratic consultant named Jill Hanauer moved to Colorado and decided the West was ripe for political change. After helping Democrats take the Colorado legislature in 2004, in 2007 she started a company called Project New West to help other Democrats in a region where demographic changes and the Republican Party’s shift to the right had altered the political equation.
Since the days of Arizonan Barry Goldwater, the Southwest had been solidly Republican. But that changed in the last decade. Western Democrats like Brian Schweitzer and Harry Reid won by emphasizing quality-of-life issues like education and the environment, neutralizing the culture war (often by professing love for the Second Amendment), and mobilizing the growing Hispanic vote. Far-right Republicans like former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo helped Western Democrats make the case to moderate suburbanites that the GOP had gone off the ideological deep end. Now, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado have voted Democratic in two straight presidential elections, and the party has even managed to win statewide elections in Montana and Arizona.
“We moved into the Southwest on the theory that the demographics were changing and Republicans had gone too far to the right,” Hanauer told me. Two years ago, she detected the same thing starting to happen in the South. She changed her firm’s name to Project New America and quietly began to research a new region.
In the coming weeks, Hanauer and Loranne Ausley, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, plan to launch something they’re calling the Southern Project, which will conduct research and formulate messages that can help Democrats win over Southern voters. A pilot study conducted in North Carolina in February, for example, concluded that under the state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, “there is a clear sense that hardworking taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick at the expense of big corporations and the wealthiest.” The set of talking points advises progressives to make arguments “focused around fairness and accountability,” whether the issue is tax reform or charter schools. The Southern Project will equip Southern Democrats with similar examples of messages that have been poll-tested to resonate with voters.
Obama lost North Carolina by just 2 percentage points in 2012, but Republicans took the governor’s mansion and a supermajority in the state legislature, helped by a multimillionaire named Art Pope who poured money into the party and its candidates. After the election, McCrory put Pope in his administration’s budget department and began pushing a highly ideological agenda through the state legislature, sparking a backlash that has resulted in weeks of protests at the statehouse in Raleigh.
Ausley, who ran unsuccessfully for statewide office in Florida in 2010, said Republicans across the South risk alienating voters with their hard rightward turn. Every Republican-led Southern state has rejected the federally funded expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, she noted; in Florida, Governor Rick Scott tried to accept the funds, but his own Republican-dominated legislature blocked the move. Southern Republicans have recently decried women’s entry into the workforce and advocated teaching schoolchildren about proper gender roles.
“Republicans are doing the same thing over and over again to appeal to their base, and at some point it has to come back to bite them,” Ausley said. Southern voters are generally conservative, but they’re not extremists, as Mississippi showed in 2011 when it overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have declared a fertilized egg to be a “person” with rights. Genteel Southern moderates like Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia find themselves increasingly endangered by Tea Party primary challenges; Chambliss has chosen not to run for reelection next year, setting up a race that will test Democrats’ ability to win in that state.
The Democrats working in the South emphasize the long-term nature of their project. “The South is not where the West was” a decade ago, Hanauer told me. “But there is a lot of infrastructure starting to be built, and Republican legislators are going further than the Southern public wants. There’s going to be a backlash.”
Click here to read the full piece.