Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is embarking on a voter registration bus tour he hopes will help push Dixie to the Democrats.
Dean's trip begins Thursday in President Bush's hometown of Crawford, Texas, riding an eye-catching bus wrapped in the red, white and blue of presidential candidate Barack Obama's campaign logo.
Dean said in a telephone interview that he'll focus on winning over people who are struggling economically.
"We think that they have been disillusioned," said Dean, a former Vermont governor and presidential candidate in 2004. "Many of them voted for George Bush. We think they want something new and we're going to provide it for them."
"If you don't show up, you can't win"
Democrats dominated the South through the first half of the 20th century. But as President Lyndon B. Johnson famously predicted when he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the party gradually lost support in the region. Georgia native Jimmy Carter is the only Democratic presidential candidate to win broad support in the South since then.
"I think the big reason is we haven't tried," Dean said. "If you don't show up, you can't win. And that's not going to happen this time. We are going to show up everywhere."
Republican Party spokesman Alex Conant said it will take "more than a road trip" to convince Southerners to support the Democratic agenda.
"Barack Obama's partisan record is out of step with voters in the states Dean will be driving through," Conant said. "Democrats have lost these states by double digits in recent elections and there's no reason a typical politician like Obama would do any better."
Obama has predicted he can change the trend of a Republican South, in part by registering black voters who participate in elections at a lower rate than whites. Obama and Dean have been united in their commitment to campaign for voters in all 50 states, even those where Democrats have performed poorly in the past and haven't built an organization.
But Obama is competing more aggressively in some states than others. His spending on advertising is an indication of where he thinks he has the best chance of winning, and the Southern states on the list at this point are Georgia, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
"The key is going to be registering people to vote," Dean said.
Dean said the voter registration drive is focused on boosting Obama's standing in the states, but local candidates will join the tour when it comes their way and he hopes it can help them, too.
Dean's travel plans include:
- A drive from Crawford to Austin on Thursday.
- Stops Friday in New Orleans and the Mississippi cities of Hattiesburg and Jackson.
- Visits to the Louisiana cities of Shreveport and Baton Rouge on Saturday.
- On July 25, three stops are planned in North Carolina — Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte.
- July 26 takes him to Georgia for visits to Savannah, Macon and Atlanta.
- In August, the bus is scheduled to make stops in Midwest swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana before it heads to Denver for the Democrat National Convention, which opens Aug. 25.