On Vanishing White Southern Democrats



Steve Cohen
  • Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen's landslide victory over Tomeka Hart in last week's congressional Democratic primary is all the more remarkable in light of this headline on the front page of Thursday's Wall Street Journal: "Southern White Democrats Face End of Era in Congress."

Okay, so Tennessee is maybe a border state and not part of the "Deep South" that includes Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. Cohen, who faces Republican Dr. George Flinn in November, is a politically popular white congressman in a majority-black district. And he's a liberal rather than a conservative "blue dog" Democrat, to boot.

The Journal story by reporter Naftali Bendavid says "In a stark realignment, voters in the Deep South have divided into an increasingly black Democratic Party and a mostly white Republican Party." Like Tennessee, each of those states also has a Republican governor.

Quoting from the story: "Leaders of the two parties interpret the phenomenon differently. Republicans say white voters are increasingly voting Republican, turned off by what they say is the Democratic Party's growing liberalism. Democrats blame Republican leaders for redistricting actions that Democrats say are concentrating black voters in a smaller number of districts."

White Democrats are a vanishing breed in Memphis and Shelby County. If he wins in November, Senator Jim Kyle will be the only white Democrat in the Shelby County delegation in the state legislature that included such names as Cohen, Dan Byrd, Pam Gaia, Mike Kernell, Elbert Gill, David Shirley (who switched parties), Beverly Marrero, Carol Chumney, and Chris Turner in the mid-1980s and 1990s.

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Tennessee's population is 80 percent white, Shelby County's population is 44 percent white, and the population of Memphis is 29 percent white.

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