The state chairmen of five Southern Democratic parties have written to Sen. Bernie Sanders to ask him to stop minimizing their efforts and voices in the Democratic Party.
If a letter to Sen. Sanders, the chairs of 5 Southern state Democratic parties wrote:
The greatest asset we have as a party is our diversity—a diversity of cultures, religions, ethnicities, experiences, and backgrounds.
Yet over the course of this Democratic primary, you and your surrogates have sought to minimize Secretary Hillary Clinton’s victories throughout the South as a symptom of a region that, as you put it, “distorts reality.” You argue that the South is “the most conservative part” of America; implying states that traditionally vote Republican in a general election are not worth contesting in a Democratic Primary.(Continued Below)
There are several issues with these assertions.
First, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “55% of the African American population lives in the South, and 105 Southern counties has a black population of 50 percent or higher.” The African American community has been the most reliable and consistent vote for the Democratic Party for a generation, and in this year’s primaries, in the Southern states of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and North Carolina, African Americans represented between 31-71% of the Democratic electorate. To dismiss the importance of this region is to minimize the importance of the voices of a core constituency for our party.
Second, the Democratic Primary vote in Southern States was a crucial component for Barack Obama’s ultimate success in 2008. Wins in South Carolina, and other southern states during the Democratic presidential primaries laid the groundwork for President Obama to build a message and campaign organization that resonated in North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida. Many of the non-battleground southern states even utilized these networks to assist with voter outreach efforts, mobilizing thousands of volunteers to make calls and engage in GOTV operations.
Third, several of the states that you have won like Oklahoma, Idaho, and Utah overall are far more conservative in their general election results than the states in the South. Moreover, current polls show that the Democratic electorate across the South is consistently among the most liberal anywhere in the nation. In fact, some of the most liberal members of Congress hail from majority-minority districts in these states. Regardless, it is important that Democrats in red and blue states alike feel supported by the Party and our presidential candidates.
Democrats ought to embrace the South and all regions to build an organization that can compete in all 50 states. We must continue winning states like Virginia and North Carolina, and we can’t write off states like Tennessee and Georgia. Even Texas could turn blue in less than a generation. And beyond the presidential race, there are important statewide and other federal races happening every cycle. Boosting Democrats’ chances in those seats is vital to enacting a progressive agenda at the local level and in General Assembles. This can only happen if we show up, speak to the region’s needs, and compete for every vote, even in the face of long odds. That’s how change really happens.
Southern Democrats already have to deal with Republicans refusing to expand Medicaid, deteriorating infrastructure, and the lack of adequate funding for our public schools. We need our national Democratic leaders to invest in our races and causes—to amplify our voices, not diminish them.
Some of the most committed Democrats in the country reside in states where every election at every level of government is an uphill struggle for Democratic candidates. It was a mistake for Sen. Sanders to downplay Hillary Clinton’s primary victories in these states. He may have been viewing it as a contextualizing of what Clinton accomplished, but many Southern Democratic voters viewed his comments as an insult.
Southern Democrats have to fight the perception from some Democrats in urban, Northern and Western parts of the country that they are losing elections because they aren’t progressive enough, or good enough to win. Sen. Sanders began his campaign by holding rallies in red states that have been ignored and underserved by the national Democratic Party.
The Sanders campaign moved away from this strategy after they got their clock cleaned in South Carolina, but Democrats in red states could use a strong progressive leader like Sen. Sanders championing their efforts to turn their home states blue. Sanders is a national political leader, and here is hoping that he chooses to use his platform to encourage, instead of minimizing Southern Democrats.