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Obama's Southern Strategy


With the appointment of yet another Republican to his cabinet yesterday, one can’t help but think that there’s a secondary strategy to this string of bi-partisan moves. Because whether it’s intentional or not is beside the point since the net effect is fewer Republicans in elected office and more opportunities for Democratic pickups come 2010.

Political Wire points out the appointments so far…

  • Naming Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL) to his cabinet.
  • Appointing Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) as ambassador to China
  • Choosing Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) as secretary of the Army
  • Getting Sen. Arlen Specter to switch parties
  • Nearly getting Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to accept a cabinet appointment

Politico digs into the more cynical side of these appointments…

Since taking office in January, Obama has made an effort to convert GOP moderates in nearly every region of the country, ranging from a former Midwestern congressman, Ray LaHood, who became transportation secretary, to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was recently named ambassador to China.

Obama also made a play for two of the four remaining Northeastern Republican senators — meeting with success in the case of party-switching Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and near-success in the case of New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who initially accepted the president’s appointment as head of the Commerce Department before backing out.

And with McHugh’s appointment, Obama has managed to cut New York’s ever-shrinking GOP House delegation by one-third. The state delegation now includes just two Republicans in its 29-member contingent — down from 10 as recently as 2004.

So why go after these folks?

Two words: Southern Strategy…

“Boxing the Republicans into a South-dominated party is very good strategy, because the more you reduce the Republican Party, the more conservative and reactionary it will become, and thus less attractive to moderates,” said Tom Schaller, a University of Maryland-Baltimore County professor and the author of “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South.” “The Midwest and the Northeast are the places where there are still remnants of old-line Rockefeller Republicans. And these are the places where the Democrats will build durable majorities.”

Personally, I’d like to think that these are simply bi-partisan moves with unavoidable and understandable consequences for the Republican party. After all, nobody’s forcing these politicians to take these posts. Case in point, Judd Gregg. He ultimately didn’t think he could serve in a Democratic administration, and that could ultimately be the case with these folks too. Still, it’d be foolish to not consider that smart political operators like Barack and Rham didn’t factor the electoral upside into these moves.

So it probably comes down to how cynical you are. And I’m not to the point where I think these appointments were made specifically to pull these Republicans out of their offices.

At least not yet.