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

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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.

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.

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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.

Oklahoma and Missouri, two border Super Tuesday states, have only patches of Southernness. Maryland has counties of Southern character, but few people in them. Northern Virginia (suburban Washington) is more nearly Northeastern than Southern.

The South itself also has some significant pockets out of character.

In the mountains of east Tennessee, and spilling into surrounding states, the Republican Party has dominated politics since the Civil War. The yeoman farmers there owned few slaves and remained loyal to the union. Former Senate majority leader Howard Baker Jr., moderate and pragmatic, is a product of east Tennessee Republicanism.

South Louisiana is a more exotic corner of the South, where Cajuns lived isolated along the bayous until recent decades. Mostly Roman Catholic, unlike the strait-laced Protestants of northern Louisiana, the Cajuns have a free-wheeling, high-spirited reputation well maintained by Louisiana's controversial recent governor, Democrat Edwin Edwards.

The campaign schedules of the presidential candidates these days are scattering them like birdshot over the region.

The Republicans are favoring South Carolina heavily because its GOP primary March 5 is expected to help shape the field going into Super Tuesday, three days later.

Democrats seem to appear most frequently in Houston, Atlanta, and all over Florida.

Robert Dole's schedule for Wednesday this week illustrates the airborne nature of the Super Tuesday campaigns as he hops from one media market to the next.

Dole planned five 20-minute ``news availabilities'' in different cities. Except for one session at a downtown Sheraton Inn in Charleston, Dole's feet barely touched the ground. He made appearances at airports in Columbia, Florence, and Greenville, S.C., and in Charlotte, N.C.

Among the issues of the campaign, the candidates will find few regional hot-buttons, although the oil-patch states mildly favor an oil import fee, Carolina tobacco growers are concerned about their subsidies, and textile millworkers want protection from foreign competition.

Many Southern voters assess the times as does Michael Harrell, who works for a property-management company of Memphis. He sends his daughter to a private Christian Academy and spends his weekends floating amid $18,900 worth of bass fishing equipment - convinced the Republicans have been good for the economy.

The GOP may be the party of big business, says Mr. Harrell, a lifelong Democrat, ``but what's good for business is good for me. When the big dogs make money, I make money.''

Mary Wells, who owns Koretizing Cleaners in Rocky Mount, N.C., might mostly agree, but her conservative views are tempered by her experience as a working woman. ``I've seen a lot of changes since I've been in business, but let me tell you it's tougher being a woman in business here.''

A wide range of Southerners share the view of Powell Jenkins, who owns a hardware store across town. He would like to hear more credible talk from the candidates on the budget deficit. ``I know from my own experience that if you get in a bind like this country's in, you're going to have to do something dramatic to turn it around.''

Last in a series. Previous articles ran Feb. 23, 24, and 25.

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