07/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Sort Of Audacious Southern Strategy

Barack Obama's "Southern Strategy" based on expected "historic turnout in the African-American community" has come under scrutiny recently, setting off a new round of debate on the matter in the blogosphere.

Obama's plan includes going after states such as Georgia, where there are a reported 600,000 unregistered African-Americans, as well as wooing the increasing number of relocated white northerners and younger professionals throughout the south who tend to vote more Democratic than native-born white southerners. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) recently won his seat in large part due to the votes of more liberal voters in Northern Virginia.

Political scientist Tom Schaller kicked off the online debate with an op-ed in the New York Times detailing the incredible odds Obama faces in winning any southern state other than Virginia. Schaller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland and author of Whistling Past Dixie: How the Democrats Can Win Without the South, wrote:

The first myth is that African-American turnout in the South is low. Black voters are actually well represented in the Southern electorate: In the 11 states of the former Confederacy, African-Americans were 17.9 percent of the age-eligible population and 17.9 percent of actual voters in 2004, analysis of Census Bureau data shows.

Nate Silver at fivethirteight posted some very good current data to show strong leads for McCain in the South.

Not everyone was convinced by Schaller's math. Patrick Ottenhoff of thelectoralmap thinks that Schaller overlooks qualitative factors developing in the south and relies too much on data from previous election cycles. Ottenhoff points to the election of Democrat Travis Childers in the Mississippi Special Election held this spring.

By relying solely on numbers, we tie arguments solely to the past and ignore the events in the present or the landscape of the future...How can you explain the recent election in Mississippi's First, where Democrat Travis Childers won in a district that is 26 percent black?

Joe Windish, writing at The Moderate Voice, echoes Ottenhoff in holding that the numbers can only reveal so much:

Schaller's other main argument is that Obama will not win the South because of the white vote. He points out that the more African-Americans the more whites tend to vote Republican. This idea has held up pretty well around the blogosphere and by decades of data.

Jonathan Martin at Politico agrees with Schaller on this point and noted that this idea is a half-century old:

It's not a coincidence that Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas have the fewest blacks in the historic states of the Confederacy and still retain a healthy two-party system or prosperous Democratic party.

Stacy McCain notes that this trend is not unique to the South, but rather occurs nationwide and even applies within the Democratic party. A NYT Magazine piece from March argues that in states with larger black populations, the whites tended to vote in larger percentages for Hillary Clinton.

Although it has always been an audacious idea, Obama's winning Dixie, James Joyner of OutsideTheBeltway makes the larger less audacious case for the strategy when he writes:

Campaigning in such a way as to give himself a chance -- or to make McCain spend money -- in the South will likely help him in other states as well.