THE BLOG

Oh, to Live in a Battleground State

11/05/2012 02:03 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Every four years about this time in the presidential election cycle, I yearn to live in a battleground state, a place where I would be spoiled with superpowers.

  • With the flick of a magic button, I would be able to turn off mind-numbing television ads and bubblehead pundits pounding the same old rhetoric and phrases into my brain.
  • With the click of a website button, I would be able to summon dozens of friends and people I don't know to my home to party with balloons, staid campaign videos and iced tea out the wazoo.
  • And with the trick of good timing, I'd arrive at the right diner at just the right time where I could pump super-strength into both major candidates by shaking their hands.

Ahhh, think of it -- superpowers, a cool cape and the feeling that my vote actually counted -- if I lived in a battleground state.

But back in the real world, my vote for president in South Carolina, like throughout most of the Deep South, doesn't really make much of a difference.

If I cast a ballot for President Obama, I'll vote knowing a Democrat hasn't won any of the Palmetto State's electoral votes since Jimmy Carter's win 36 years ago. Or if I vote for Republican Mitt Romney, my one ballot won't make much of a difference because South Carolina and her sister states are so reliably red now. And third parties? Don't even go there.

Since 1976, Democrats have prevailed in just 18 of the 81 Southern state elections for the presidency (nine states multiplied by nine presidential elections) stretching from the Gulf coast in Louisiana to the Atlantic coast in Virginia, including Tennessee.

Four of the nine states -- Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia -- voted only once over nine elections for Democratic presidential candidates. In 1976, the first three voted for their Southern neighbor, Carter of Georgia. In fact, eight of the nine states went for Carter in 1976. The only one that didn't -- Virginia -- stayed solidly Republican until 2008, when it narrowly went for Obama.

After the 1976 election, it's been an Everest-like slog for Democrats in presidential contests as Republicans used the volatile combination of Ronald Reagan, fear and race to attract white Democrats. And they did one more thing with spin and flair -- they made poor white voters with little real hope of becoming rich feel like they could become rich and join the country club.

Only one of the South's own -- Bill "Bubba" Clinton -- was able to break the solid GOP grip on the Deep South presidential electorate in 1992 by winning Louisiana and Tennessee. Four years later, he added Florida and Georgia.

The once solid Democratic South went completely Republican in 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2004. Obama's calculated campaigning of 2008 surprised the GOP in Virginia and North Carolina (but maybe not Florida.)

And this year? All eyes are on Ohio, but there could be some Southern surprises. Four years of work by Obama's ground team in North Carolina reportedly racked up more than 250,000 new voters. In Florida, Romney could benefit if seniors side with him on the economy instead of picking Obama to keep Medicare "the way we know it." And in Virginia, a close U.S. Senate race could impact which way the state swings for the White House.

Even though I'd like to have superpowers for a change, I'll just hunker down again in South Carolina to watch the fun called Election Day.

Andy Brack, a South Carolina writer based in Charleston, chairs the Center for a Better South.