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Southward Through the Snow

January 21, 1987

It's not sleepy time down South anymore. The South will hold the nation's first regional presidential primary on March 8, 1988, and on Tuesday the Republicans chose New Orleans as the site of their 1988 national nominating convention--subject to a routine formal vote by the GOP national committee. The Democrats also are eyeing New Orleans, but are more likely to go either to Atlanta or to Houston.

Thus a major national party will go into the Old South, excluding Florida, for its convention for only the second time in history. The Democrats met in Charleston in 1860, but deadlocked after Southern delegates bolted over the slavery issue. The convention reconvened later in Baltimore and nominated Sen. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. Douglas lost to Abraham Lincoln, but the Democrats ruled the South for a century.

Now, however, Southern and neighboring Sun Belt states have become a major battleground. Democrats swept the Southern U.S. Senate contests this year. Republicans pretty much reciprocated in the governorships. The South was fertile ground for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, but no incumbent will be running in 1988.

Republicans would go to New Orleans only on condition that the Democrats did not, since the GOP wanted unlimited access to the the Superdome for at least six weeks before the convention. The Democratic convention will open just four weeks before the Republicans meet. Atlanta never has hosted a national convention, while the Democrats met in Houston in 1928 to nominate Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York.

The South's new rise in politics notwithstanding, some things never change. While the Republicans' site committee was preparing to vote, former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, the Democrats' early front-runner, was in New Hampshire to renew acquaintances with that state's first-in-the-nation primary voters. For all candidates, the road to the Summer of '88 in the South still will wind through the snow and cold of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire.

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