If you look at LA-06 special election Democratic candidate Don Cazayoux’s issues page you’ll note that he wants to bring the troops home, improve education, expand access to health care, and promote fair trade. That’s the form New Populism seems to be taking in the South. But if you look further, you’ll see that he is strongly opposed to ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants and he’s staunchly anti-choice. That also seems to be a feature of New Populism in the South. We can see it in the Democratic candidates for MS-01 and MS-03, who are also competing in upcoming special elections, and in some of the senate candidacies in the South.

Their positions on immigration and choice are troubling. But they also seem to have surprising strength. An internal poll shows Cazayoux beating his Republican opponent.

Portions of a GOP poll conducted March 17-18 and obtained by Roll Call showed Jenkins down three points in a head-to-head matchup with Cazayoux. That’s not great math to begin with in a district that gave President Bush a 19-point margin of victory in the 2004 presidential campaign and repeatedly sent former Rep. Richard Baker (R) to Congress by large margins.

But the numbers get worse when looking at specific important voting blocs in the Baton Rouge-based 6th district. Men 55 and older preferred Cazayoux 51 percent to 38 percent, voters who turned out in the special March primary would vote for Cazayoux 53 percent to 39 percent and those voters who said they are definitely going to vote in the special preferred Cazayoux by nine points.

This comes after the shocking results in the recent MS-01 runoff elections, where Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans 36,000-33,000 in a district that voted Republican in 2006 by 66%-34%. These new Democratic candidates are socially and culturally conservative, but they aren’t really Blue Dogs in the common understanding of the term. Fiscal conservatism takes a backseat to better schools, better healthcare, improved infrastructure, and accountable government. The new breed of candidate is likely to oppose free trade, ridicule No Child Left Behind, and to blast the HMO’s, pharmaceuticals, and Big Energy companies. These are not John Breaux’s Democrats.

It’s hard to say how many of these seats are actually going to fall into Democratic hands, but the competitiveness of the special election races is telling. The revival of the Southern Democratic Party appears to depend on jettisoning the pro-corporate business-first policies of the Democratic Leadership Council…or Clintonism. Of course, Clinton lost every southern state except Tennessee and Arkansas.

In the presidential race things are somewhat confused by the racial component which obscures any ideological preference. Clinton and Obama’s blurring strategies on policy also make it difficult for the average voter to see clear distinctions. But when you look at the platforms of the candidates that are running, you can see a clear preference for a populist approach.

What’s really amazing is that the Republicans are this vulnerable in the Deep South. It’s the only place in the country where they are not facing the prospect of giant losses in November. If they lose seats there too, it could be a monumental realignment event.

Part of me is very uncomfortable with more Democrats in the caucus that have bad ideas on immigration and choice. But as long as it is only an add-on to an already realigned Congress, and not the key voting bloc, it will signify that the Democrats are back as the majority governing party for decades to come. And, when it comes to the Bush era, I’d like to see the strongest possible repudiation by the people. The more people, even conservative people, that refuse to vote for or self-identify as Republicans, the better.

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