Today's U.S. Census Bureau report will confirm what average Americans have known, and political scientists have recognized, for decades: the Sun Belt states continue to gain population, members of Congress and votes in the Electoral College at the expense of their northern counterparts. The weather down South and out West is better.
Superficial analysis will hail this as a political windfall for Republicans, largely because Texas is expected to pick up four congressional seats.
Recent history, however, warns against such claims. In winning three of the last five presidential elections, the Democrats have shown their ability to compete in the Sun Belt, especially in the West. Even in last November's disaster, the Continental Divide acted as a firewall, with Democrats winning crucial statewide elections in Colorado, Nevada, California and Washington.
The reason is pretty obvious: Republicans have a problem with minority voters. Multi-racial coalitions gave Barack Obama victory in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, California and other crucial states in 2008. Yes, the Sun Belt is growing, but to a great extent that growth is Hispanic. Newt Gingrich can take all the Spanish lessons he wants, but the Tea Party Republicans won't let their party bend on immigration. Senate Republicans did themselves no favor by rejecting so moderate and fair a measure as the DREAM Act last week. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the Tea Party.]
Politics runs in cycles. When the GOP stopped running Californians (there was a Nixon or a Reagan on the GOP national ticket in seven of the nine presidential elections between 1952 and 1984), and stepped up the bashing of Hispanic immigrants, it shoved the nation's biggest political plum, majority-minority California, into Democratic hands and forfeited its once-vaunted Electoral College "lock." [See a roundup of editorial cartoons about immigration.]
Texas is a GOP bastion now. But it too is a majority-minority state. In part because of the Bush family's moderation on race and immigration, Democrats have failed at assembling (and getting to the polls) the kind of multi-racial coalition there that has proven successful in other states. But unless Jeb runs for president, the Bush era is over, at least for a generation.
The same is true for other Sun Belt states that are expected to pick up seats in Congress and votes in the Electoral College. Without a Bush on the ticket, Florida went Democratic in 2008. In Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona the white population has slipped below 60 percent; even in South Carolina, it is below 65 percent.
Which is not to say that Obama and the Democrats don't have their work cut out for them. The president has to energize the soldiers of his young, liberal multi-racial base while corralling moderate white suburbanites. The Democrats failed at both tasks in November. But do take the Republican crowing over the Census report, as with all political prognostications, with a healthy dose of skepticism.
- Check out this month's best political cartoons.
- See which industries give the most to Congress.
- Read more about immigration reform.