Moran didn't apologize for her progressive views: "I made my campaign about our people, our businesses, our schools, how much we've progressed and how much we need to continue," she said. "That word, progress, is not a dirty word." To charges that she was a tax-and-spend socialist, she responded by touting the public works she'd funded with tax dollars. "People want quality services, and they are willing to pay for that," she said. She won with 62 percent of the vote.
It didn't hurt that South Forward, acting independently of Moran's campaign, sent out mailers slamming her opponent for alleged financial improprieties. Moran's campaign adviser, Ana Maria Rosato, told me platitudes are nice, but it's the hard work of campaigns -- and the money to carry them out -- that will truly power Southern Democrats to victory. "Engage, engage, engage," she said. "We can't just be sitting around with our chardonnay. How many people did you register to vote? How much money did you give? How many people did you call?"
That's where the new groups such as South Forward and the Southern Project could make an impact -- by providing resources and support to races and states that are often off the radar of the national Democratic Party. A third group, the Southern Progress Fund, also is gearing up to launch in the coming months, led by former Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, who lost reelection in 2003 to Republican Haley Barbour. The group, Musgrove told me, will be a multistate PAC providing funds and assistance to state legislative and other downballot campaigns; registering voters; and protecting voters' rights at the polls.
The goal, Musgrove said, is "to lay the groundwork long-term for the South once again to be a Democratic stronghold," by "building a strong bench of up-and-coming Democratic leaders." Republicans, naturally, are skeptical of all this. Chip Felkel, a Greenville, S.C.-based GOP consultant who worked on both of George W. Bush's campaigns, said Democrats have alienated themselves from Southern culture in a way that will be hard to reverse.
"It's still a place that, to borrow a phrase, clings to its guns and religion, and I think it will continue to do so," Felkel said. "As long as the Democratic Party still seems to be the party that's opposed to religion and guns, a large segment of the Southern population is going to have trouble with that, especially at the federal level."
But Felkel is also troubled by the direction of his own party, which he sees being hijacked by far-right activists with little regard for the GOP's traditions. Felkel cut his teeth with the 1986 campaign of the legendary former South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell, but he's afraid Campbell's type couldn't get through a Republican primary in this day and age.
"The people who helped to bring the Republican Party into power -- President Reagan, Governor Campbell -- those people would not be viewed as Republican enough for some of these Tea Party types today," Felkel said. "It bothers me greatly. I think it's a path to insignificance."