WORLD/COVER

THE SECRETS OF 'SUPER TUESDAY'

MARCI McDONALD March 7 1988
WORLD/COVER

THE SECRETS OF 'SUPER TUESDAY'

MARCI McDONALD March 7 1988

THE SECRETS OF 'SUPER TUESDAY'

WORLD/COVER

Along River Road, outside Greenville, N.C., the sagging clapboard shanties of black farm work ers punctuated the win ter-barren tobacco

fields. But turning down a neatly manicured lane into Marvin Blount’s farm, Tennessee Senator Albert Gore’s motorcade came to rest at a more photogenic scene of the rural South. On a platform in the barnyard, a country band strummed bluegrass tunes while, milling around picnic tables, 300 white businessmen and

Gore presented an image that was crucial to his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. At 39, the youngest and most handsome of the White House hopefuls had been caricatured by one cartoonist as “Prince Albert of the Tennessee Valley.” A senator’s son, the southernborn Gore was raised in Washington—where he attended the capital’s most exclusive private school before going on to study law at Harvard.

Elections: Now, Gore and nine other Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are trying to tailor their images to fit the tastes of voters in 20 states—14 of them in the South— which will hold primary elections on March 8—a critical date, known as Super Tuesday. The very idea of the megaprimary was largely spawned by the Democrats and it was born out of the region’s longtime political frustration. Ever since the

tobacco farmers in tractor caps munched on barbecued suckling pig in the noonday sun. Gore’s campaign strategists had clearly chosen the setting with care. Unleashing a drawl that he seldom displays in Washington,

bitter civil rights struggles of the 1960s, southern Democratic leaders have watched as their once-regionally dominant party lost a succession of presidential elections. And they lost their mainstay—the southern white male voter—to the Republicans.

Campaign: For many of the candidates, next Tuesday may be a make-orbreak day—and the intensity of their campaigns reflects its importance. Last week Gore resorted to folksy demonstrations of hound dog calls and brandished the credentials of his boyhood summers

toiling in the tobacco fields on the family’s Tennessee farm. “I want you to know, with my own hands I’ve put it in the plant beds, I’ve hoed it, I’ve suckered it, I’ve stripped it and sold it,” he told the rally. “I stand with the small farmer. Whenever there have been people at the grassroots level standing against large powerful interests, I’ve been with the average working men and women.”

With that populist claim, Gore echoed a theme that has resonated through the politics of the South for generations. From Louisiana’s legendary firebrand

governor, Huey Long, to the “Send them a message” presidential campaigns of Alabama’s defiant segregationist governor, George Wallace, southern politicians have played the same us-againstthem theme. And in doing so, they have succeeded in tapping the deep undercurrents of regional resentment that linger in the South more than 120 years after the Civil War. Indeed, the politics of resentment lay behind the electoral test that will determine whether or not Gore’s candidacy can survive.

More than any other candidate in either party, Gore has gambled his fortunes on the 14 primaries on Super Tuesday. But complicating his wager are all the contradictions that have long made the region the country’s most volatile political terrain. There is not one South, but many Souths—as the 10 candidates trying to cover the vast territory in only three weeks have discovered. At one pole are the backwoods hillbillies of Tennessee; at the other, the transplanted northerners who drive BMWs, subscribe to The New Yorker and work in the high-tech industries flourishing around Raleigh, N.C. And Gore now finds himself pitted against a representative of yet another fragment of the new South: Jesse Jackson, who is predicted to win a solid 20 per cent of the Democratic vote in the South (page 22).

In fact, most analysts say that Super Tuesday, designed to give southern Democrats a strong, unified voice in the political arena, is likely to produce no decisive winner, serving only to underscore the I region’s still-festering di0 visions of race. Indeed, 5 some experts say that Su1 per Tuesday could leave I the party even more poI larized along racial lines

in the South. Political scientist Merle Black of the University of North Carolina points out that, if the Democrats fail to find a consensus candidate to lure white voters back to the fold, “people could start to ask whether the Democratic party would still be useful to whites.” Said Black: “It poses these real longterm questions for the party. And at the bottom of it, they’re very ugly questions.”

Evangelism: Among Republicans too, Super Tuesday threatens to ignite another explosive strain—the longsmouldering moral resentment of the nation’s estimated 50 million to 80 million evangelical Christians, most of whom live in the South. First mobilized to vote for Reagan in 1980, they remain the only constituency whose agenda the President has not fulfilled.

Their frustrations over not having won their goal of school prayer and a

constitutional ban on abortion have mounted over the past eight years. Now, many of them see their hopes raised again by former television evangelist Marion (Pat) Robertson. And Barbara Jenkins, a homemaker from Marietta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, typifies their fury and alienation. She said that she was so horrified at the values taught in her. local public school that she pulled her 10-year-old daughter out of class two years ago and teaches her at home. “I’m so sick of the public school system,” she said. 3 “In our town, there’s a § group of us that is 50§ strong. We’re against this y secular humanism that is g taught.”

~ Last week Jenkins £ joined 3,000 others in Atlanta’s Civic Centre in prolonged flag-waving ovations for Robertson as he repeated many of the populist battle cries that have historically mobilized the South. One was a call to arms against an intrusive Yankee federal government that has imposed everything from affirmative action quotas to abortion rights. Said Robertson: “There’s one thing we don’t like as southerners and we don’t like as conservatives. We don’t want some big government in Washington telling us what to do.”

Robertson has broadened his politics of resentment to take in the economically disaffected as well. Campaigning among South Carolina textile workers last week, he blamed the loss of nearly 200,000 jobs in the South’s textile mills over the past 13 years on “the s international banking I community.” And he 1 charged that bank loans 1 to Communist and Third 2 World countries had en5 abled those nations to

produce cheap exports that were stealing American markets.

Robertson also tried to portray himself as the beleaguered underdog fighting the Republican Yankee establishment as he wrestled with his worst crisis last week. At issue: the tearful confession of fire-and-brimstone Louisiana television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart that he had “sinned”—reportedly paying prostitutes to perform pornographic acts. Robertson—whose candidacy was endorsed by Swaggart—suggested that Vice-President George Bush was behind the exposure, hoping to embarrass him. He claimed it “strained credulity” that Swaggart’s misdeeds had come to light “two weeks before the most important primary in the nation.”

Hero: In portraying himself as David to the Goliath of Republican front-runner Bush—and linking Bush to the party’s old-guard Yankee establishment and banks—

Robertson had again sounded a note familiar in the South. It was a note many had not heard since George Wallace’s rebellious 1972 presidential campaign against the mainstream Democratic party was derailed by an assassination attempt that left the Alabama governor paralysed. Said political scientist Black: “Pat Robertson is going after the white working-class vote, and they haven’t had a hero since George Wallace was shot. He has the same potential for this kind of hero worship.” Black predicts that, if Robertson does well on Super Tuesday, he could have the same divisive effect on the Republican party in the South that Wallace once had on the Democrats.

Said Black: “He could expand the party’s base, but he does so at the price of party unity. You’d have Robertson in and the country club out.”

To many observers, it seemed ironic that Super Tuesday might only fuel such factional tensions.

In 1984 the southern white male voters supported Reagan by an overwhelming 3:1 ratio.

One who did so was Louis

Howell, 38, an unemployed policeman in Little Rock. After returning home from the Vietnam War, Howell found he could not even get a job interview with the local police department. “They were only looking for women and minorities,” said Howell. “They were trying to fill a quota set by the federal government, and a lot of southern white males resent that.”

In recent years only one candidate,

in 1976, had succeeded in luring disaffected southern white males back to the Democratic party and winning the White House: a onetime Georgia peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter. But in the wake of Walter Mondale’s humiliating 49-state loss to Reagan in

1984, 48 of the party’s most prominent fund raisers gathered in a Washington hotel to plan a new strategy. One of them was retired North Carolina insurance tycoon Wallace Hyde, now a key Gore supporter. “I was devastated by that [1984] loss,” he said. “I made up my mind: I’m tired of losing elections. We’ve been beat over the head enough.” He argued that Dixiecrats, as they call themselves, had to win more influence

in choosing the Democratic candidate. Said Hyde: “We can’t take a typical northern liberal and elect him. We’ve got to have a president who’s in the moderate vein.”

The fund-raising group, calling itself Impac 88, persuaded 14 of the region’s state legislatures to opt for a same-day southern primary. And southern Republicans, who had swept the last presidential elections, were only too glad to go along with the plan. But the Democrats’ strategy omitted one key element: a candidate around whom they could unite. When Georgia’s Senator Sam Nunn and former Virginia governor Charles Robb declined to run, they talked Gore into throwing his hat into the presidential ring.

But he remains a lessthan-ideal candidate for southern conservatives. Gore’s father, Albert

Sr.—who lost his Senate seat in 1970 because of his opposition to the Vietnam War—was one of the South’s leading liberals. And despite his recent hardline stance on defence, Gore has a liberal voting record that makes some southern conservatives suspicious. In fact, in the middle of a news conference to endorse Gore last week, Alabama’s plainspoken Senator Howell Heflin stunned the campaign by suddenly declaring, “He’s not

too far to the left, but I’ve got to try to bring him to the middle a little bit.” Snob: But Gore’s hawkish new position on defence leaves many voters unconvinced—as does his man-of-the-people approach. Said Nancy Peckenham, a North Carolina textile union organizer who supports Jesse Jackson: “Somebody I know who was for him just tore his bumper sticker off their car. He is coming across as a real snob. This phoney Ichase-pigs crap: who believes it?”

Gore has also discovered that an unexpected rival may outperform him in tapping grassroots Democratic frustrations in the South: Representative Richard Gephardt from Missouri, one of the border states which also holds a primary on March 8. Gephardt has already surged ahead of him in Texas and Louisiana—the economically depressed oil patch—with his populist brand of protectionism, blaming foreign imports for stealing American jobs.

Among the Republicans, the gloomy campaign of Senator Robert Dole revived somewhat when he swept to victory in the South Dakota primary and the Minnesota caucuses last week. But an elated Dole acknowledged that he

still had an uphill fight against Republican front-runner George Bush’s overwhelming lead in the South.

Similarly encouraged by a victory in the Midwest was the Democrats’ Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. With his 34-per-cent victory in Minnesota, Dukakis proved that he was not just a New England regional candidate.

But some southerners still clearly doubt that Dukakis can transfer his cool

technocratic appeal to the South, which traditionally likes its politicians to show down-home emotion and a flamboyant turn of phrase. There is also the matter of what some analysts call Dukakis’s ethnicity. Said Kenneth Dews, the Democratic commissioner of Pitt County near Greenville: “This is a terrible thing to say, but southerners have always had trouble with names like Dukakis. It’s names like Carter and Wallace—you know, Anglo-Saxon—that’s who we elect here.”

Professionals: Dukakis is aiming his campaign at selected urban and suburban pockets of the South—a strategy generally called “cherry-picking.” His organizers are courting northern retirees who now populate the condominiums of Tampa, Fla., and Miami. And Dukakis is displaying his knowledge of Spanish to gain endorsements from Texas’s Hispanic leaders. But he has also targeted the Yankee professionals and computer whizzes who have been lured to the 1,500-square-mile Research Triangle bounded by North Carolina’s Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, which now has the fastest-growing high-tech economy in the country. Since

1980 53 per cent of the Triangle’s newcomers have been lured from northern states—34 per cent of them from Dukakis’s stronghold, the northeast—in pursuit of the 2,000 new jobs created there each year.

Indeed, with three of the country’s leading universities in the area and more PhDs per capita than anywhere else in the nation, suburbs have now sprung up to replace the antebellum mansions where the barons of tobacco once reigned. Still, much of the old South remains. Agriculture still rules the region, and 40 per cent of its population remains rural. And southern states still play home to 48 per cent of the nation’s poor. But despite what Reginald Lester of the Tobacco Growers Information Committee in Raleigh terms “the antismoking cabal,” tobacco is still the number 1 cash crop. In fact, nothing underlines the complexities of presidential campaigning in the South more than Dukakis’s recent encounter with the tobacco industry.

Crops: As Lester tells it, the Massachusetts governor swung through North Carolina last summer and suggested that tobacco farmers—under siege from the antismoking lobby—ought to consider diversifying. He proposed a crop that had been a success in his state: Belgian endive. But in North Carolina—where tobacco grown on six per cent of the cropland produces over 50 per cent of the crop income—the story still provokes guffaws and jokes about “yuppie agriculture.” And Lester has produced a “tobacco primer” for presidential contenders to stop them “spouting off all this nonsense,” as he puts it.

While Americans now smoke 584 billion cigarettes a year, compared to 626 billion in 1976, the tobacco export market is mushrooming. The chief U.S. customer: Japan. That could be one reason why Gephardt’s protectionist sabre-rattling may fall on deaf ears among the South’s 100,000 tobacco farmers. Said Lester: “One farmer said to me, ‘If they keep buying our top leaf, I’ll be happy to buy one of their Toyota trucks.’ ”

Meanwhile, political analysts grow increasingly doubtful that Super Tuesday will clarify this year’s muddled election campaign.

They point out that if March 8 produces no clear winner in either party, the result will be doubly hurtful. Not only will southerners have failed to influence the choice of a candidate, but, said Stephen Hess, of Washington’s Brookings Institution, “it will increase the importance of the late primaries in the industrial states again.” If that should happen, the new Southlike the South of old—could find itself once again harboring the grudges of a region alienated from the rest of the nation.

—MARCI McDONALD in Atlanta

MARCI McDONALD