John Kerry Not Only JFK to See Democrat Chances Outside the South

“Everyone makes the mistake of looking South,” John Kerry was quoted as saying in early 2004. Kerry was talking about the notion that Democrats must win some southern states if they are to win presidential (and other elections). To make a long story short, Kerry was heavily criticized by a lot of folks in the media and both parties for this statement. Of course many of these people failed to point out that:

1. Every Republican presidential election winner (and even some losers) from 1880 through 1988 won a majority of electoral votes in the non-South.

2. Except for Richard Nixon in 1968, every GOP winner from 1880 through 1988 won enough electoral votes outside the 13 southern states to win a majority of total electoral votes. Pick any election the GOP won from Lincoln through Bush Sr. Except for 1968, any Republican winner could’ve failed to win a single southern electoral vote and still won their respective election. Can we say MSM double standard?

Anyhow, while the debate over what Democrats and the South will long continue, contrary to popular belief, it is not like the notion that the Democrats could win without “winning” the South is anything new.

In their 1970 memoir Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John F. Kennedy presidential aides Dave Powers and Kenneth O’Donnell explained one big reason JFK went to Dallas in November 1963. “He was planning to campaign hard in Texas and in Florida because he had little hope of carrying the other southern states,” (page 12). While LBJ would go on to win some other states aside from those two, he did fail to win Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia, and Lousiana. Without the black vote in NC, Va., Tenn., and Ark, Johnson probably loses those states as well.

In addition, Theodore White in The Making of the President 1964 has this little nugget about a meeting held between JFK and his political advisers on November 12, 1963: “There was little doubt that they (the Democrats) would win. Therefore, cartain longer-range matter than victory had to be attended to. The South was prime on the agenda, and as between the the Sorenson and the Bailey-Scammon strategies for reducing the South’s mischief-making in the Party, the President chose the Bailey strategy- which was to reduce the strength of the South in the Democratic Party slowly ( by a new adjustment of delegate seats at the national Convention to reduce South seats from 23% to 19% of the total) as against the Sorenson strategy which would’ve broken the back of the South right then and there in 1964,” (page 29).

So no, Kerry (and other 2004 Democrats) were not saying some heresy, nor out of touch on “values” and other DC pundit baloney, they were just following the trail blazed by their forefathers.

Next: A Rich, Compassionate, Northeast Liberal Who saw the Future Geography of Both Parties-Before John Kerry

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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24 Responses to John Kerry Not Only JFK to See Democrat Chances Outside the South

  1. Indie Liberal says:

    I still think the campaingn made a mistake of writing off the South. That’s where a lot of the Black votes are.

    It worked for B. Clinton and Gore (though Kerry got more AA votes than both Gore and Clinton) and what’s scary that if Hillary runs, she may try to use that Kerry quote against him and use Bill’s relationship with AA to boost her chances.

    Am I missing something?

  2. battlebob says:

    In ’64, Johnson ran against Goldwater. Johnson had a few things going for him:
    the sympathy vote from the Kennedy assassination
    had a good economy
    he flat out bullied the press into giving him good coverage.
    had a united party.
    painted Goldwater as reckless and an extremist.

    Goldwater came from a divided party and was considered a right wingnut even then. They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    Governor Rockefeller even rebuked Goldwater at the Repub convention.

    Of course, Johnson dived headlong into ‘Nam where a lot of those 58,195 names on the Wall were on his watch.

    And now, we get to live with the horrors of conservatism that is worse than anything Goldwater ever imagined.

  3. battlebob says:

    In an earlier set of essays you discussed why the South is not worth the effort. You may want to mention why again.

  4. battlebob says:

    In 1964, the Democratic soothsayers would know nothing about the future migration of people from the North and Northeast to the South and Southwest.
    Eventually, if this trend continues, the electoral votes in the South and Southwest will determine a winner regardless of the voters in the North and Northeast.
    Dems will eventualy have to start being active in areas where they don’t do well.

  5. Ron Chusid says:

    It works both ways. As population moves towards the southern states, the states become more important but also the influx of northerners might make them more competitive. States with the largest population growth such as Florida could become easier to win.

  6. battlebob says:

    That is very true which means we need to play there now for a win later.

    The long term view is it may take years before Dems do well but they need to start playing harder there.

    This is Howard’s appeal for a 50 state campaign and grow the grassroots.

  7. Darth Malice says:

    Hey, we in the South are part of America too,I also think the GOP should try again for the Northeast,but not with Rinos like Chaffee and Specter……..Kerry should not have written off the South.

  8. battlebob says:

    The south is a different country. Even when dems were strong, they did not support dem policy.
    I would vote for succession now.
    Where would the South be without the rest of the country?
    Most Southern states are poorer then their Northern brothers. Southern states get more in tax dollars then the pay.
    Who needs them?
    Then they can stay conservative or what other nutcase ideology of the moment they decide to follow.

  9. Nick says:


    Very good points. As to why South may not be the effort:
    1. Any Democrat who wins 16 NE and Mid-West states that JK won wins 175 EVs to South’s 168 EVs. Bring Iowa and/or Ohio into Democrat fold (or NM, Nevada and Colorado) and the South is another place on the map.
    2. The 11 southern states outside of Texas and Florida are worth only more electoral vote now than they were in the 1960s. SC, Arkansas, and Tennesee are worth the same EV now that they were then. Va. gained 1 since the 1960s, NC 2 and Ga. 3. But Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Lousiana have each lost one electoral vote since ther 1960s.
    3. Texas has gained 9 EVs since the 1960s, Florida has gained 13. Even with this growth point #1 still applies. Of course, Florida is no longer a safe GOP state-more like a GOP leaning swing state (like Michigan is a Dem leaning swing state). Win Florida+Kerry states=victory!
    On the other hand Kerry states + Mo. and Iowa=victory. Kerry states+Ohio=victory or Kerry states +Nv., Colo., and NM=victory.

  10. Nick says:


    Totally agree that about ’64 (and by the way I think JFK would’ve slaughtered Goldwater if he had lived-maybe not as much as LBJ did, but a big win nevertheless).

    Only thing is you say that LBJ painted Goldwater as a right-wing extremist. I agree Johnson did this but for a good reason-Goldwater was a right-wingh extremist. Some guy who talks casually about using nukes, votes against Civil Rights Act of 1964, and wants to make Soc. Security “voluntary” is pretty extreme and right-wing to boot.

  11. battlebob says:

    You are correct. LBJ didn’t have to paint LBJ much. Goldwater did himself in.
    Goldwater’s own party was not happy with him and many moderate Repubs stayed home.
    It is really interesting to contrast the ’60, ’64 and ’68 elections.
    In 1960, supposedly Illinois (and by implication Mayor Daily) lost a lot of down-state ballots that would have given Illinois to Nixon and thus the Presidency. It was that close and the parties were that even.
    In 1964, Johnson won in a cake-walk and the Repubs never looked weaker.
    In 1968, Nixon won as the Southern Strategy took off with the South being upset over the civil rights legislation.
    Humphrey got in late after McCarthy forced Johnson out and after Bobby Kennedy was murdered.
    Dems never looked weaker until now.
    In 1976, Ford had a poor economy and took a lot of hits for pardoning Nixon. Carter won as an outsider and a reformer.
    I voted for Carter as a single issue voter. I was on the Space Shuttle program.
    When asked about the shuttle, Ford talked about how great the NYC to DC shuttle was. Carter who is an engineer talked eloquently about the need for the shuttle and space exploration.
    Once Carter won, he micromanaged and mismanaged the project into years of delays. He took a much too active an interest in it. He may have been a nuclear engineer but he knew nothing about large engineering projects.

  12. battlebob says:

    LBJ didn’t have to paint Goldwater much

  13. battlebob says:

    I was thinking long term. As the migration moves South and West where Dems are weaker, shouldn’t we follow the migration?

  14. battlebob says:

    Look at,_1976
    for 1976 voting results.
    A close election where Carter won the South but lost Illinois and Michigan.

  15. Nick says:

    Battlebob says

    “As the migration moves South and West where Dems are weaker, shouldn’t we follow the migration?”

    Absolutely they should. And they have to a large degree. There aren’t any states in the Mid-West or NE that have gained EVs since the 1960s (except maybe Maine and that’s pretty Democratic now). In the South, Dems have gotten stronger in Florida, and win in Florida and you more than cancel out the only other southern state with a lot of post 1960s growth, Texas.
    As for the West, check out a post I did a while ago that I think was called “Western Democrats and why the Sniping?”
    To make a long story short, most of the safe GOP states haven’t grown in the West (Utah gained one, Montana lost one). True Arizona has picked up 5 EVs since the 60s but California (which is now a safe Democrat state) has picked up 15. Nevada, Colo., and NM have picked up 2, 3, and 1 EV respectively since the 60s-and they’re all a lot less GOP than they were even in the 1990s. Outside the South, not one state that has grown in Evs since the 1970s has gotten more Republican. So while your point is most definitely valid, your should know that Dems are doing what they should be doing- following your advice.

  16. Nick says:


    Don’t take this personally but the history teacher in me is crying out to correct this. You asserted that Daley helped steal Illinois for JFK in 1960 and thus won him the presidency. I agree there were many Chicagoans that did their civic duty and voted for JFK in 1960-despite the fact they had died in 1910. Still, even if the “JFK stole Illinois” line is true, JFK still wins the election of 1960.
    In 1960, JFK beat Nixon 303 to 219 in the electoral college (15 EV’s went to segregationist Va. Senator Harry F. Byrd.)
    Illinois was worth 27 EVs in 1960, so even if Nixon won it the EV count would’ve been JFK 276 to Nixon 246. Close, but still a JFK win. Nixon would’ve had to win Texas or Pennsylvania to win if he had Illinois. While JFK won those states narrowly, he did win them by large enough margins that his victories there couldn’t be blamed on vote fraud.
    In 2000 some Republicans (most notably then Va. governor Jim Gilmore) made the arguement that “hey JFK stole victory from Nixon” which somehow made what Bush did respectable. I know, go figure.
    Sorry Jim, you got your history wrong. On the other hand Gilmore was so out of it he makes Dubya look like a Rhodes scholar. I know that sounds impossible, but believe me it’s true.

  17. Nick says:

    As for 1976, I can see your point, but 1976 was an odd year. You had conservative states that would never vote Dem post-1960 but did so because Carter was the first southerner nominated for president since the Civil War (LBJ doesn’t count as he only became president when JFK died a fe months before the Dem Convention).
    At the same time States with histories of both economic and cultural liberalism (NJ, Connecticut, California) voted for the more conservative of the two candidates because being a southerner Carter “must be” some closet racist, or anti-union, or anti-government, or anti-secular guy or whatever.
    Finally, there is the fact of Gerald Ford. Sure Ford had pardoned the unpopular Richard Nixon but Ford was a far more moderate Republican than today’s breed. While Illinois may be out of reach, a Republican like Ford could probably win most other non-south swing states.
    As for the South, even Carter political adviser Hamilton Jordan admitted in his book CRISIS that 1976 was a one-shot deal. Many southerners voted Dem because Carter was a southerner. In 1980 all of the South (save Georgia) voted for a divorced, Hollywood libertine who admitted to experimenting with drugs as a young man and who had concieved a child with his second wife BEFORE they got married. Go figure.

  18. battlebob says:

    The city-lore was that Daily stole the election for Kennedy when in reality it didn’t matter. The popular vote was extremely close.

    The Illinois thing was kinda tongue-in-cheek.
    My Dad was a staunch Democrat but he hated the Daily corruption machine. Important duties like fire and safety inspections were dealt with by bribes. We knew of several buildings that burnt down because the fire inspection was a fraud.
    Forget about restaurant inspections. The inspectors would call in advance of favored restaurants before showing up.
    If people get sick then don’t eat there again.

    The election results from wikipedia

    The November 8 election was extemely close– Kennedy beat Nixon by two tenths of a percentage point (0.2%) in the popular vote. The New York Times, summarizing the discussion late in November, spoke of a “narrow consensus” among the experts that Kennedy had won more than he lost as a result of his Catholicism.[1] Interviewing the same people who voted in 1956 and 1960, the Michigan team discovered that the voters for Stevenson the Democrat in 1956 split 33–6 for Kennedy, while the Eisenhower voters of 1956 split 44–17 for Nixon. That is, Nixon lost 28% (17/61) of the Eisenhower voters, while Kennedy lost only 15% of the Stevenson voters. The Democrats in other words did a better job holding their base than the Republicans.[2]

    Some Republicans alleged that Kennedy benefited from vote fraud especially in Texas and Illinois. There is no certainty that Nixon would have won both Texas and Illinois (which he would have had to do to win the electoral vote). What is certain, however, is that in Illinois, Kennedy won by a bare 9,000 votes, and Mayor Daley, who held back Chicago’s vote until late in the evening, provided an extraordinary Cook County margin of victory of 450,000 votes. The Republican party urged Nixon to pursue recounts and challenge the validity of some of the votes for Kennedy, especially in the pivotal states of Illinois, Missouri and New Jersey, where large majorities in Catholic precincts handed Kennedy the election. Nixon publicly refused to call for a recount, saying it would cause a constitutional crisis. However, privately, he encouraged GOP Chair Thruston Morton to push for a recount, which Morton did in 11 states, keeping challenges in the courts into the summer of 1961; the only result was the loss of the State of Hawaii to Kennedy on a recount petitioned by the Kennedy campaign.

  19. battlebob says:

    In 1980, a certain pissed off flight systems engineer was so angry over constant meddling from the WH over things they knew nothing about would have voted Lassie for President.
    Reagan was better then a house-broken dog. He did fund the projects I was working on. My world view was very narrow then.

  20. battlebob says:

    In Illinois, we used to joke about the 1960 election as the year the dead voted. There were all sorts of stories about people who were dead and buried voting Democratic. The Cook County Commissioner was as slimy an official as they come and a lot of folks think it could have happened. Nothing ever became of it of course as the ballots or voting records were never made available to the public.

  21. Nick says:


    I had forgotten about the GOP challenges in 1960 and ’61, thanks for reminding me. Is it safe to eat in Chicago?

  22. battlebob says:

    Richard the Younger just closes airports.
    Eat there and enjoy it.
    In fact, we are going to Chicago for the festivities this weekend.

  23. Darth Malice says:

    battlebob,Maybe the northeast and Canada can merge.Then we conservatives will have theright-wing facist state we always wanted!BWAAAA!:)

  24. Nick says:


    First you gotta win in the West.
    2004 results
    Electoral college: Kerry 77 to Bush 47
    Popular vote: 49.9% Kerry 48.7% Bush