- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

Georgia Sen. Zell Miller shocked his fellow Democrats when he came out swinging at the party’s would-be standard-bearers for the 2004 presidential contest. Last week, he said he couldn’t trust any of the Democratic candidates in the race and suggested that the country would be imperiled if any one of them somehow found his way into the White House. Over the weekend, a few of the Democratic candidates reminded the Southern part of the country that they are not interested in their votes.

Political pandemonium erupted when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean stated, “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” Perhaps not the best choice of words, but his point was clear enough: Mr. Dean thinks his support for capital punishment and gun-ownership rights will make him appealing to conservative Southern voters despite his liberal positions on most other issues. Other Democratic candidates took aim and fired immediately. “If I said I wanted to be the candidate for people that ride around with helmets and swastikas, I would be asked to leave,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. “I would rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA,” said Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt claimed that Mr. Dean was pandering to elements “who disagree with us on bedrock values like civil rights.”

It didn’t occur to any of the Democratic candidates that their attacks on Mr. Dean came at the expense of painting all Southerners as racists. Mr. Miller maintains that most national Democrats do not understand the South and make campaign strategies based on the notion that the Southern vote “can go to hell.” As he told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” two days ago: “The South right now, if you took its economy, it would be the third largest in the world, next to the United States as a whole and next to Japan. Fifty-five hundred African-Americans right now hold office in the South … This is not the South that Howard Dean thinks it is. Sure, we drive pickups, but on the back of those pickups you see a lot of American flags. It’s the most patriotic region in the country.”

Elections are being held in Mississippi and Kentucky today, and more will take place in Louisiana next week. All three are historically Democratic states, but their electorates are leaning toward picking up Republican governors — a signal that Democrats are not in touch with many traditional constituencies. In Saturday’s Des Moines Register, Howard Dean suggested, “We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats.” His Democratic competitors seem to disagree.

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