As they look to the fall election, Democrats face a strategic decision that has bedeviled their party for 40 years: How hard should they fight in the South?
And how does having Senator Barack Obama at the top of the ticket affect that calculation?
Officials in Mr. Obama's campaign say they are bullish on the South, and they have signaled their aggressiveness with early campaign appearances in North Carolina and Virginia, major voter registration drives in the region, and television advertising in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Steve Hildebrand, the deputy campaign manager for Mr. Obama, said he saw "tremendous potential" in several Southern states.
"If you go in and look at the number of unregistered voters in demographic groups that are important to Barack's candidacy -- younger voters, African-American voters -- the potential is just incredible," Mr. Hildebrand said.
And yet since the South began to shift away from the Democrats in the 1960s, it has become one of the biggest and reddest of the Republican strongholds. In the last two presidential elections, the Democrats failed to carry any of the 13 Southern states. Although recent Democratic nominees have typically gotten about 9 out of 10 of the votes of Southern blacks, they still need a substantial chunk of the white vote to prevail. Political scientists put that figure at close to 40 percent, though it depends on the state, and the Democrats have rarely gotten it.