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Juan Williams: Democrats rise in the New South

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As election results pop up on television Tuesday night, most eyes will be fixed on Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

But don’t lose sight of the possibility of history being made in the South.

After signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson famously remarked that the Democratic Party would lose the South for a generation.

{mosads}He was right. Southern politics has been solid red for most of the last 50 years.

But thanks to the implosion of the Republican Party under President Trump, Democrats are in position to take a sledgehammer to the red wall that has been the basis of Republican strength in Congress.

Over the last month, polls put Democrats within striking distance of flipping U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and even Mississippi (Mississippi!).

Here’s why: In every one of these states, an increasingly racially diverse, politically moderate electorate is asking GOP incumbents why they got on board the Trump train of old-time racial division.

Specifically, those Republicans have given him uncritical support even as Old South-style white supremacists rallied to Trump’s racially divisive rhetoric and grew into the nation’s number one terror threat, according to the FBI.

Trump’s history of stirring racial division is also a driving force in getting moderate white voters to be open to supporting black candidates.

Those white voters, often younger people who have moved to the South in recent years, are more likely than older white southerners to know Blacks, Latinos and Asians as neighbors and co-workers.

The need for an interracial political alliance in the South gained urgency in the last year due to recent controversial, high profile killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks in separate incidents in Georgia.

Those tragic events have given southern Democrats the chance at political upheaval.

It can only happen if Democrats achieve high black voter turn-out while successfully appealing to young and suburban whites.

The glue to bind this new political alliance is a message of racial peace coming from moderate, educated candidates, both black and white, who can’t be easily caricatured by Republicans as crazy left-wingers.

And then there is money.

The king of national fundraising in this year’s Senate races is a black southerner — Jaime Harrison, who has a Yale undergraduate degree and a Georgetown law degree. He has raised a record $100 million in his campaign to oust an incumbent, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Given South Carolina’s long history of slavery followed by rigid segregation, it is remarkable that a black man has a chance to win.

That history jumped into the contest last month when Harrison’s opponent, Graham, remarked: “If you’re a young, African American or an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative, not liberal.”

If Harrison wins, South Carolina will be the first state ever to be represented by two black people simultaneously in the U.S. Senate.

Sen Tim Scott (R-S.C.), is currently the only black Republican in the Senate. The state is 69 percent white and 27 percent black, according to the last Census.

Demographic change is also impacting two Georgia Senate races. The New York Times put it this way in a recent story: “White residents now make up fewer than three in five voters in Georgia, and a wave of migration to the Atlanta area over the past decade has added roughly three quarters of a million people to the state’s major Democratic stronghold.”

One fast changing factor in the state’s politics is that 50 percent of voting-eligible Georgians are under the age of 45. And currently a third of that young, diverse population is black and — thanks to Trump — highly energized to turn out and vote.

The result of that infusion of new voters is that Raphael Warnock, a black minister, is in position to take advantage of an intraparty fight between GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.). If disaffected Republicans stay away from the polls in Georgia, now or in the likely run-off races, Warnock has a path to victory.

The biggest surprise on election night could be Mississippi where one poll released in September from the Tyson Group showed Democrat Mike Espy within one percentage point of incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R). Mississippi is 59 percent white, 38 percent black.

Espy, a black man with a Santa Clara law degree, served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Clinton.

Espy forced Hyde-Smith into a run-off in 2018 when neither got a majority of the vote.

In a solid red state, Hyde-Smith still generated national headlines in 2018 when she was caught on tape saying she would gladly “be in the front row” for a “public hanging.”

Those three races reveal the changing face of Democratic political prospects in the South.

And, of course, it was South Carolina’s black Democrats who set former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign on the road to the party’s presidential nomination.

Wouldn’t it be something if they also delivered him a Democratic Congress to enact his first-term agenda?

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2020 Senate elections Demographics Donald Trump Doug Collins Joe Biden Kelly Loeffler Lindsey Graham racial politics the south Tim Scott

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