The Magazine

The Boston Democrats

From the August 2, 2004 issue: Why it took them 200 years to hold a Democratic convention there.

Aug 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 44 • By JAMES PIERESON
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This exchange, however, seems not to have benefited northern politicians to any great degree. John F. Kennedy, in 1960, was the last northerner to be elected to the presidency, and since that time several others (Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, and Dukakis) have been defeated, most by large margins. Since 1960, our elected presidents have come from just four states: Texas, California, Arkansas, and Georgia.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, the Democratic party adopted a strategy of nominating for the presidency northern politicians who were sympathetic to the southern position on slavery. The idea was to sweep the Democratic South, while retaining a sufficient number of northern or border states to win the election. It was a successful strategy, even though the candidates (Van Buren of New York, Cass of Michigan, Pierce of New Hampshire, Buchanan of Pennsylvania, and Douglas of Illinois) were derided in the North as "northern men with southern principles."

In recent decades, the Democrats have adopted something of an opposite strategy, nominating southern liberals who can hold the North while attracting enough electoral votes in the South to win a majority. These "southern men with northern principles"--Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and now John Edwards--have proved to be more successful as candidates than northern Democrats. Yet the game has been played often enough by now that it has probably lost its capacity to fool many voters in the southern and border states.

So it is that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is unlikely to win a single state in the South in this year's election, thus conceding the 160 or so electoral votes in the region to George Bush. If history is any guide, the Democratic ticket, led by a Boston liberal, will have great difficulty crafting a majority coalition out of the remaining sections of the country. Still, stranger things have happened--as witness the metamorphosis of Boston from its roots as a Republican stronghold to its current role as eager host to a Democratic convention.

James Piereson is an occasional contributor to The Weekly Standard.