Salena Zito

PROSPERITY, S.C.  – Erik Grantham walked out of Stable Steak House on Main Street, through a door hand-painted in bright yellow with “Jesus is the reason.”

“I have not been home in months,” he said, leaning against his truck as if to emphasize his exhaustion. “I am a welder but there is no work at home, so I travel, going from job to job across the state.”

Dressed in stained overalls and sipping a Coke, he said he would not be home for Saturday’s Republican primary. He hopes to be there for November’s election, to make his voice heard.

“I guess you could call me a ‘yellow-dog Democrat,’ just always vote that way,” he said, puffing a cigarette before flicking it artfully across the street.

Yet he will not vote for President Obama or any other Democrat again: “I voted for him the last time because that is my party. It is not anymore.”

Grantham, 47, reflects the once-proud Southern white Democrat that the party began bleeding in 1948 during a convention battle between civil-righters and Dixiecrat states-righters. The Republican Party really didn't capitalize on that until 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower won some southern states.

Richard Nixon developed the strategy of competing in the Deep South, which typically was barren land for Republicans. While the results were mixed for him, his brilliant move marked the start of the South turning on Democrats.

“As a new generation developed, the people who were conservative Democrats and Dixiecrats mostly became Republicans,” explains Bert Rockman, Purdue University political-science professor.

“There were momentary revivals for the Democrats, in 1976 with Jimmy Carter and 1992 with Bill Clinton, but the die had been cast.”

In 2008, Democrats enjoyed a bit of a turnaround as minorities and highly educated whites supported Barack Obama in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida (which he won) and Georgia (which he lost).

Obama is relying on three of those (Virginia, North Carolina, Florida) for re-election; he currently is under water in state-by-state approval ratings.

“My guess is that the Dems are cooked in the Deep South,” Rockman said.

In the simplest terms, whites, especially white men, voted about 88 percent for John McCain in 2008. That same voter element in the Deep South is deeply opposed to national Democrats, as it has been for some time.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.