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The many `Souths'. Divisions of race, culture, economics cloud traditional voting patterns

By Marshall IngwersonStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 1988

Jackson, Miss.

The South that votes March 8 is divided among many different Souths and loaded with un-Southern elements. Race remains the great divide. At its most stark, in Mississippi in 1984, Walter Mondale won 93 percent of black votes and only 17 percent of whites.

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Black and white voters, however, not only join forces regularly at the polls in winning numbers, but Southern whites have shown some recent, spotty, willingness to help elect black politicians.

The Southern economy appears divided, too, between the hustling cities and stagnant small towns. As bulldozers drone on in Atlanta, Nashville, or Orlando, Fla., some rural counties are losing their only hospitals for lack of funds.

Rural voters, some political strategists suggest, may be ripe for a populist message of government help and change.

Manners and morals mark another sort of divide. They no longer radiate most powerfully from the South of memory and social stability, from the country crossroad and Charleston, S.C., society. The Sunbelt capitals of Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., prefer progress and opportunity to traditional character, regularly knocking down landmarks for parking or new buildings.

Likewise, political styles are going modern. Mississippi's new governor, Democrat Ray Mabus, is a young Harvard technocrat who enjoys a late-night jog.

On the moral front, supporters of Pat Robertson are among those seeking a traditional moral center to middle-class modern life.

In spite of differences within the South and the growing similarities between the region and the rest of the country, the South remains a distinctive, self-conscious political region.

Altogether, 35 percent of the delegates to both the Republican and Democratic conventions will be allotted from 20 states on Super Tuesday - including 14 Southern and border states.

The South itself, discounting decidedly un-Dixie-like regions of Florida and Texas, will pack off little more than half that share.

The South at its most Southern is the Deep South, including the old plantation belt from Louisiana to South Carolina, with the richest soil and poorest people. The upper South is more urban, industrial, white, and Republican.

Massive chunks of the South's megastates, Florida and Texas, are not Southern at all.

Florida is nearly a microcosm of the nation - only newer. Anti-Castro Cubans, liberal Jews from the Northeast, conservative retired businessmen, and opportunity seekers from almost everywhere boost Florida's population by some 900 people a day.

Less than half the congressional districts in the state can arguably be called Southern in heritage or profile. But Sunbelt cities such as Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., have strong Southern roots. North of Orlando, Florida settles into vintage Dixie, draped in Spanish moss.

Campaign professionals usually divide Texas into three distinct political regions. South Texans are largely Mexican-American, a group whose politics tends to fall halfway between those of blacks and whites.

West Texans, overwhelmingly white Anglos, tend to be conservative, independent, and spread thin spread over a dry landscape.

From Dallas and Houston east, however, taking in well over a third of the population, Texas becomes increasingly Southern.