Dixie Chicks Rising: Southern Democratic Women Hold the Key to Senate Control in 2014

Democratic Women

In four of the most competitive Senate races in the country, Southern Democratic women may hold the key to Democratic Senate control in 2014. The Democrats hold a tenuous 52-46 edge in the US Senate (54-46 when you align nominally Independent Bernie Sanders and Angus King with the Democrats), and with so many red states in play in 2014, the Senate could be flipped by the GOP picking up a net five seats. Democratic retirements in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia open the door to GOP pickup opportunities. Furthermore, Democratic incumbents in Arkansas and Alaska must ward off GOP challengers in deep red states. Few of the Republican held Senate seats that are up for re-election in 2014 are in states that are even considered remotely competitive.  Thus a few crucial races could determine the balance of the US Senate and four of those races may end up pitting New South “Dixie Chicks” against Old South “Good Ol’ Boys” in a battle for control of the US Senate waged below the Mason-Dixon line.

Two of those races involve Democratic incumbents fighting for continued political survival in Southern red states, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagen in North Carolina. The other two races feature Democratic women who are competing to enter the US Senate as newcomers, Alison Lundergran Grimes who is running to unseat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and Michelle Nunn who is fighting to win an open seat in Georgia. What all four women have in common right now is that they are tied or leading in the polls, despite running as liberal Democratic women in Southern states that voted Republican for president in 2012.

A poll released August 6th shows Democrat Michelle Nunn leading or tied with every announced GOP candidate in Georgia. Two recent polls had Alison Grimes clinging to a narrow lead over Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.  A July poll had Kay Hagan defeating all Republican contenders by double digits and although Louisiana has not been polled recently, earlier polls from 2013 also show Mary Landrieu leading in her bid for re-election.

While the South may seem like an unlikely place for Democrats to put up female candidates who can win, Landrieu has demonstrated an ability to win re-election multiple times since 1996 when she first claimed her seat.  Since then she has piled up a moderate to liberal voting record that includes support for preserving Roe vs Wade, extending the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and favoring laws to protect gays and lesbians from employment discrimination. Landrieu and Hagan also supported background checks for gun purchases this year and Hagan has openly supported marriage equality as well as abortion rights.

While some pundits would argue that a woman staking out such controversial socially liberal positions in the South is akin to political suicide, these women recognize that in the war on women, many Southerners will align with women rather than the Good Ol’ Boys network that held sway in the last century. It may come as a surprise to most pundits that the Democratic Senate delegation representing Confederate and Border states is already over thirty percent female, compared to twenty percent for Democrats in the Northern, Midwestern and Western states. The Democratic Party in the South is increasingly throwing its support behind strong, outspoken female candidates, who like Alison Grimes’ campaign ad warns “don’t scare easy”. Early polling from the competitive races suggest that it may be Republican men who have reason to be afraid.

Although the American South remains one of the more politically conservative regions of the country, the right-wing masculine hegemony is slowly giving way to a reinvigorated South where bold liberal female candidates are reshaping the political order slowly but surely. The 2014 Senate races may be a crucial test of how much has changed. If Landrieu and Hagan can hold their seats and Grimes and Nunn can join the Senate club, it will represent the crumbling of the Good Ol’ Boys network in the American South.  Add to that, the possibility of Wendy Davis becoming Governor of Texas and a woman from Arkansas potentially winning the White House in 2016, and the crumbling of the Good Ol Boy South may become irreversible, as the memories of Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Lester Maddox get buried underneath the rise of the “Dixie Chicks”.





Image: Democratic Stuff

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