Analysis: The South and Georgia Could Decide the GOP and Democratic Nominations In ‘16
By Matt Towery, InsiderAdvantage Founder/FOX 5 Political Analyst
For the first time in decades, the South will likely decide the Republican presidential nominee. And the region could be just as decisive for the Democratic candidates.
The South did just that in 2008 on the Democratic side, and to little notice. That year Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination. But in late 2007 a superstar celebrity named Oprah Winfrey decided to make an appearance with Barack Obama at the premier college football stadium in South Carolina. That set the South on fire for Obama, and that event was, as they say, “all she wrote.”
Obama won in Iowa, lost to Clinton in New Hampshire, but carried South Carolina and went on to the Democratic nomination and the presidency.
The difference in 2008 was that few Southern states really played a role in the nomination of either Obama or Republican John McCain. This year, by contrast, the primary and caucus schedules are fundamentally different. And the South has truly risen to prominence again!
After Iowa and New Hampshire, plus a few of the more beaten-path contests, the South will stand as the big prize for the highly competitive GOP nomination battle. Yes, South Carolina will loom large, but it may not be the state to decide things. In 2012 Newt Gingrich won that particular primary, but was then destroyed in a Florida primary that took place just a week later.
On March 1 of this year, at least six Southern states, including Georgia, will hold concurrent primaries. That is big. In fact it is huge, given that the South is the modern heart and soul of the GOP.
Most importantly, these Southern states will be choosing their preferences for the GOP nominee before their “sister” state of Florida does. This calendar change is a big one, making states like Georgia and the others more important. But it will still guarantee that their neighbor Florida will be the likely final deciding blow in the nomination process.
That means a lot. Iowa in 2008 went for Mike Huckabee. But by the time the Florida primary came along John McCain had secured the support of then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist was immensely popular there at the time, and his endorsement undoubtedly gave McCain the push he needed to become the Republican nominee.
The game-changer is that suddenly the “Red States” might decide the GOP nomination in 2016. In the past few presidential elections, only South Carolina among the region's states played a significant role in the nominating process. With Florida coming immediately after the South Carolina contest in recent presidential campaigns, Florida’s huge delegate count has essentially sealed the deal for the eventual Republican nominees.
With Atlanta as the largest media market in the Southern states, with voting on March 1 of this year, and with Georgia providing one of the largest portions of delegates up for grabs, Georgians can expect plenty of attention from presidential candidates from both parties.
But with races for the nomination of both parties highly fluid, the South has reliable and identifiable demographic and philosophical groups that can be moved to determine a nomination.
On the GOP side, “Trump Fever” took hold early and stronger in the South than in any other section of the nation. There is a large segment of GOP populists who in the past were misidentified as Tea Party members. They are going early-on for Trump’s take-no-prisoners style and his willingness to confront the politically correct police in the media.
Also look for at least one GOP contender to grab hold of the region’s hugely influential evangelical vote. In recent years their voice has been stifled by a nomination schedule that made their votes count too little and too late.
On the Democratic side the key to winning many of the Southern states will be an ability to capture the vote of African Americans. States such as South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama have seen their Democratic primary election makeups skew heavily towards black voters as rural and ex-urban whites have moved to the GOP.
Can Hillary Clinton reclaim her husband’s magic with African Americans? Or will President Obama give a nod in the direction of another candidate of his preference? If he were to do so, his support would benefit that candidate when the South starts voting next March.
We will follow this journey all the way through to November as we have in recent cycles. But this time the South and Georgia will play a much more interesting and potentially important role in deciding who will be our next president.