November 7, 2010
Keith Gaddie

Democrats fell through the floor of Little Dixie

Little Dixie fell to the Republicans last week, and the Democrats fell through the floor with it. The last Democratic bastion was looted, picked clean of socially conservative Democrats whose grandparents hung pictures of FDR and Jesus together in the kitchen.

Not so long ago, Oklahoma Democrats dominated state politics, and southeastern Oklahoma was the heart of the Democratic Party. Little Dixie sent forth state and federal lawmakers who brought home pork and projects and held the line against the threatening, modern influences of urbanism and Republicanism. Those Democrats relied on a great old line, "I'm an Oklahoma Democrat" and then they'd talk about the New Deal and roads and schools and jobs and economic development.

But the old lines now ring hollow. Rural Democratic politicians confronted an electorate that had access to national media � Fox News comes in through those satellite dishes, and Rush Limbaugh is on the radio. Little Dixie counties jumped 20 points more Republican for president from 2000 to 2008, and a quick look in the last Tulsa World poll performed by SoonerPoll further informs the situation. Among Little Dixie voters, the president had a 27.5 percent approval rating, and his approval rating among self-identified Little Dixie Democrats runs below the national average for all voters.

Unlike recession-resistant central Oklahoma, Little Dixie is hard hit by the economic downturn; Latimer, McCurtain, Le Flore and Sequoyah counties have unemployment exceeding the national average. And the Democrats have the presidency so the Democrats get the blame, all the way to the courthouse.

It's the economy. It's Obama. And it got to the Democrats down at the courthouses and out at the cattle gate.

Whatever it is, it loosened the fingernail hold Democrats had on rural Oklahoma voters. Republicans were able to get most Little Dixie votes below the presidential level. Mary Fallin won every county down there in the governor's race, and other Republicans ran strong as well. An example of the depth of the GOP's penetration is found in Poteau. Every Republican running statewide carried Le Flore County except Todd Lamb, who was opposed for lieutenant governor by local Sen. Kenneth Corn. Republicans took Corn's open seat, and two others. Of eight contested House districts in the region, five went Republican. Half of the Republican legislative gain is in Little Dixie.

Democrats shoulder some of the blame. Democratic politics is stripped of any means to make an affirmative argument for government to rural voters. There is no money for roads or schools or jobs, and the Henrys campaigned against an ill-conceived measure to raise common education expenditures. When the go-go economy of 2006 gave way to bust in Little Dixie, the major Democrats failed to articulate any political agenda other than a pandering to guns and claims of conservative values. There was no direct confrontation of the concerns of either Little Dixie, or of the campaign of the successful Republicans. And Mary Fallin ran on schools and jobs and fighting Washington.

But, there was Barry Switzer.

Keith Gaddie, Ph.D, �is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and Vice President of Research at SoonerPoll.com

Keith Gaddie
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Keith Gaddie