July 21, 2003
Bob Graham and NASCAR

As always, one of the interesting things about travel is seeing a different daily newspaper. Today's top story in the Sun-Sentinel is about Sen. Bob Graham's "NASCAR strategy" for winning the Democratic nomination.

The NASCAR gambit, the bluegrass music, the down-home campaign style -- all are designed to expand the base of Democratic voters and propel Graham to his party's presidential nomination.

Inescapably an urbane policy wonk in a suit, Graham gamely reaches out to voters through music, including his own campaign CD and warbling singing voice, his "work days" in ordinary jobs and his boyhood experiences with the family dairy farm back in Miami Lakes. He burnished these credentials and took them on the road to southwest Virginia last week and plans similar ventures to the countryside in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Roanoke reflects a culture that can be found in hill country throughout the Appalachian region.

"This is where we start a mountain campaign," declared David "Mudcat" Saunders, a drawling good-ol'-boy political operative who works for Graham.

"The Appalachian range runs from Maine to Georgia, and there's not 50 cents' worth of difference between any of us," he said. "We love NASCAR, we love our sporting culture, and we only like two kinds of music: country and Western. Actually three, counting bluegrass.

"Rural America is forgotten America. Do we have a chip on our shoulders, a lot of us? Damn right we do. We'd like to be paid attention to a little bit. These people have been voting for Republicans, no doubt, but will they vote for a Democrat? Damn right, they will. If you get through the culture, they are going to listen to you."

I wish him well in courting these voters, but I have to agree with the expert here:

"In general, there aren't that many of this kind of Democratic voter left," said Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston, who two decades ago correctly predicted the Republican realignment of the South. "They are poorly educated, older white voters. Most of them don't have the Democratic Party on their radar any more. These primary elections for the most part attract hard-core party activists. I don't see how this strategy would work unless it was accompanied by a ton of money for advertising."

I think Graham is pursuing a shrinking pool of voters, and I think that's a losing tactic. I believe the Democrats have better prospects and a larger target out West than down South. A Southerner (especially a Floridian) as Vice President might be a decent idea (even if candidates's geography is overrated), but I don't think the 2004 election will hinge on it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 21, 2003 to The making of the President | TrackBack

Not sure about that. A lot of Floridians, all across the political spectrum, found his 'workdays' charming, despite other disagreements.

Posted by: Kathy K on July 21, 2003 8:18 PM

The "NASCAR strategy" might apply if this was the 1976 election instead of the 2004 election. NASCAR has developed into a multi-million dollar, sophisticated sport with more drivers coming from outside the traditional area (Deep South) than ever.

If you were to tell me 10 years ago that I would go down to Dover, DE and watch a NASCAR race, I would have looked at you like you were insane. However, I did just that last September and will be doing it again this year. I am not a moonshining, country music listening, two tooth functional illiterate that considers the fifth grade "my senior year".

I suggest Mr. Graham re-think his strategy.

Posted by: William Hughes on July 22, 2003 2:13 PM