By Brent Budowsky - 07/09/14 07:12 PM EDT
In the battle of Democrats to keep control of the Senate in 2014 and win a substantial victory in the presidential election 2016, the new rise of Southern Democrats is a very big deal.
Throughout the South, a new generation of highly talented Bill Clinton-style political leaders has brought the Democratic Party to a strongly competitive position. I call it the battle between Johnny Cash Democrats, who are big-tent believers in a widely shared dream, and Ted Nugent Republicans, who are small-tent believers waving lists of Americans they consider enemies.
In the great battle for North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is fighting back and gaining strength against an attempt by radical right forces to complete a hostile takeover of an enlightened state with a diverse electorate.
In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, the daughter of one of the most respected leaders in Georgia history and a woman of vast competence and widely admired achievement in her own right, is making a serious run to turn an important Senate seat from red to blue.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a highly respected former governor and brilliantly successful entrepreneur, appears headed toward a substantial reelection victory in Virginia. Both Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), another widely respected former governor, will be on short lists for future presidential and vice presidential nominations.
In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor, a moderate Democrat who has earned respect from Senate colleagues in both parties, is fighting back relentlessly against a slanderous GOP attack questioning his deeply felt Christianity.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, who shows signs of being a political natural with a Clintonian touch, is within striking range in Kentucky of upsetting the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, who is backed by the political and financial armada of the national GOP power structure.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the daughter of a great Louisiana political family and the powerful chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, is barnstorming the state to keep her Senate seat in Democratic hands and keep the Energy Committee, which is vital to the economy of her state.
Meanwhile, a new poll from Public Policy Polling shows that, with Louisiana voters, Hillary Clinton is running neck and neck against potential GOP opponents in 2016.
And in Florida, former Gov. Charlie Christ, who was appalled by the extremism of the GOP and left in 2012 to become a Democrat, has a good chance of defeating the highly unpopular GOP governor, Rick Scott.
These are close, competitive races. It would be folly to predict winners and losers today, but this much is clear: While it is unlikely that every Democrat mentioned in this column will prevail in November, it is certainly possible. The Democrats are back in business in the South, big time.
The tectonic plate of electoral politics in the South is shifting. Faced with adversity, Southern Democrats have elevated a new generation of savvy leaders with a political touch in Bill Clinton’s style, a moderate progressivism that appeals to small and new tech business, a soft populism that appeals to working-class voters, and a can-do attitude that contrasts nicely against gridlock in Washington and the hostile fanaticism of an unpopular GOP brand.
New-generation Southern Democrats attract, and hard-right Southern Republicans repel many Hispanics, moderates and moderate conservative women, as well as black voters energized by dynamic new leaders such as the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.
The battle between Johnny Cash Democrats and Ted Nugent Republicans could save the Democratic Senate in 2014 and plant the seed for a Hillary Clinton presidency. The outcome is far from certain, but ladies and gentlemen: The South is now in play.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.