By: The Washington Post
Published: Saturday, November 24, 2012, 7:16 p.m.
Updated: Monday, November 26, 2012
OXFORD, Miss. — Election Day in the South told a surprising story: The nation’s first black president finished more strongly in the region than any Democratic nominee in three decades, underscoring a fresh challenge for Republicans who rely on Southern whites as their base of national support.
President Obama won Virginia and Florida and narrowly missed victory in North Carolina. But he also polled as well in Georgia as any Democrat since Jimmy Carter, grabbed 44 percent of the vote in deep-red South Carolina and just under that in Mississippi — despite doing no substantive campaigning in any of those states.
Much of the post-election analysis has focused on the demographic crisis facing Republicans among Hispanic voters, particularly in Texas. But the results across other parts of the South, where Latinos remain a single-digit minority, point to separate trends among blacks and whites that also may have big implications for the GOP’s future.
The results show a region cleaving apart electorally along new fault lines. In the region’s center, clustered along the Mississippi River, the GOP remains largely unchallenged.
Nearly nine of 10 of white voters in Mississippi, for instance, went for Republican nominee Mitt Romney this year, according to exit polls. About 96 percent of black voters in the state supported Obama.
The pattern is markedly different in the five states that hug the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Florida, which together hold 82 of the South’s 160 electoral votes. A combination of a growing black population, urban expansion, oceanfront development and in-migration from outside the region has opened increasing opportunities for Democrats in those states.
“Georgia is an achievable target for Democrats in 2016,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a frequent Obama surrogate during the campaign. “What you’re going to see is the Democratic Party making a drive through the geography from Virginia to Florida.”
Prominent conservatives in the region are acutely aware of the danger posed by the trends.
“We’ve got to go out and sell our ideas not just to the choir, but the whole church,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee member from Mississippi and a top Romney fundraiser (and nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour). “We’re not going to get 25 percent of the black vote in four years, but we’ve got to figure out which African-Americans share our core beliefs.”