Dixie Sensibility Matters in This Election
By David Shribman

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There's a lot of talk that the election will be won in the battleground states of the Rustbelt and the Midwest: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. That may be true, but keep your eye on the South. Al Gore and George W. Bush, who boast Southern headquarters and Southern sensibilities, are going to work this area hard.

Only five states--Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama--are settled; Bush will win them. The rest, including Gore's home, Tennessee, are up for grabs. The Clinton-Gore team needed five Southern states (contributing 47 electoral votes in 1992, 59 in 1996) to win the past two elections. Without that many in 2000, Gore will end up whistling "Dixie"--while Bush hums "Happy Days Are Here Again."

"We're not ceding ground there," insists Fred Humphries, a Tennessean who is Gore's political director. Team Gore's top targets: Georgia, which Clinton won in 1992 but lost in 1996, and Florida, which Clinton lost in 1992 but won in 1996. In both states, local conditions have shifted. Georgia was firmly in Bush's pocket until GOP Senator Paul Coverdell, a leading Bush acolyte, died unexpectedly last month; Gore can expect a boost from the newly appointed Senator, Zell Miller, a ferociously popular former Democratic governor, who faces voters in November. Ordinarily the demographics of Florida, where Medicare is a trump card, might favor Gore, but Bush should nab the state with the help of brother and governor Jeb.

The rest of the region will be even tougher for Gore; Clinton's absence from the scene has hurt the Democrats. "We have no hometown obligation to vote for Al Gore the way we did for Bill Clinton," says Republican Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas; Clinton won his home state twice in a row, but the Republicans think they've got it iced this time. Also expect trench warfare in Louisiana, Arkansas' neighbor, which twice fell Clinton's way. This time, Republicans hope that with some wooing, Louisiana will take its cue from its western neighbor, Texas, and fall for Bush. "Gore doesn't have the savoir-faire that was part of Clinton's appeal," says former GOP Representative Bob Livingston. "We in Louisiana like to be entertained--and Gore is not entertaining."

Eight years ago Clinton and Bush's father spent the final days of the campaign in the South. It's traditionally the graveyard of presidential aspirations. In 2000, both campaigns believe it could be the birthplace of presidential administrations. --David Shribman