VALDOSTA -- Whether President George W. Bush is re-elected or not, Lowndes County will likely give him a majority of its votes next month over Democratic challenger John Kerry.

Since 1964, Lowndes County has given the majority of its support to Republican contenders in the past 10 presidential elections. There have only been two exceptions: Democrat Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter's successful presidential bid in 1976; and Alabama Gov. George Wallace's failed third party bid in 1968 -- a year when GOP candidate Richard Nixon also received more Lowndes County votes than Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

In most of these elections, the majority of Lowndes County's votes went to the men who won the White House: Nixon (1972); Carter (1976); Ronald Reagan (1980 and 1984); George H.W. Bush (1988); George W. Bush (2000).

But if the majority of Americans had voted like Lowndes County on other occasions in the past 40 years, the United States would have likely seen Barry Goldwater become president in 1964, instead of President Lyndon Baines Johnson; the U.S. would have elected American Independent Party's George Wallace president (1968), instead of Nixon's election to a first term; a second term for George H.W. Bush (1992) and the rise of GOP Bob Dole to the Oval Office (1996), instead of President Bill Clinton who was elected in both elections of the '90s.

Given the region and the state's recent election of numerous GOP officials (from Sonny Perdue, the first GOP Georgia governor since Reconstruction, to Georgia Republicans in Congress and the state General Assembly), the Republicans' ability to attract the most of Lowndes County's votes in the presidential races shouldn't be surprising. Yet, the majority of these presidential races occurred in years when South Georgia -- indeed, all of the South -- was considered a Democratic bastion. Often, from 1964 until the early 1990s, many Lowndes County races (such as county commission, sheriff, etc.) were decided during the primary because there were no Republican candidates. They were all Democrats, even though the region voted consistently for the Republican presidential candidate.



Contradictions

Lowndes isn't really a political contradiction nowadays, nor was it prior to 1964.

Before 1964, Lowndes County fell into the category of "yellow dog Democrat," meaning that a voter would vote only for Democrats no matter who was running. In 1952 and 1956, for examples, Lowndes County would have twice sent Democrat Adlai Stevenson to the White House. Lowndes gave Stevenson a vast number of votes over World War II hero and two-term President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Before the 1960s, if the candidate was a Democrat, Lowndes County voted for him.

Yet, by 1960, Democrat John F. Kennedy barely drew more local votes than GOP Richard Nixon, who received the highest number of votes for a Republican candidate in Lowndes County history up until that time, according to a November 1960 issue of The Valdosta Daily Times.

JFK's narrow victory, probably because of his Catholicism, in a one-time Democratic stronghold foreshadowed the political contradictions in Lowndes County -- contradictions that became a political song of the South.



The Dixiecrats

To better understand why Democratic presidential hopefuls lost hope in Lowndes County and many other counties throughout the South, we need to look back to the 1948 election.

Democratic Vice President Harry S. Truman became president in 1945 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in office.

At the 1948 Democrat convention, Truman was nominated to run for a term of his own, "but they took some time about it and, in the process, adopted civil-rights measures which led the South to bolt the party and form the Dixiecrats (the states' rights Democratic Party), which nominated J. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina as presidential candidate," says historian Paul Johnson.

On Election Day 1948, Truman received 1,856 Lowndes County votes but Thurmond came in a close second with 1,448 votes. In 1948, Lowndes County was ready to move away from national Democratic policies but apparently not enough to side with a Republican. GOP presidential contender Thomas E. Dewey received only 634 Lowndes County votes in 1948.

In the 1940s, the GOP was still viewed as the "party of Lincoln" -- an anathema for many white Southerners. But as political winds shifted, white Southerners continued moving away from the national platforms of their own Democratic Party for a variety of reasons.



The change

Though Kennedy won Lowndes County by only 200 votes over Nixon in 1960, the region was still solidly Democrat in its presidential politics. During his inauguration in January 1961, The Valdosta Daily Times praised Kennedy as a fine American and urged local residents to support his administration.

By 1964, Kennedy had been assassinated, his Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, the Civil Rights Act passed as law that same year, and an arch-conservative fringe in the GOP dominated the party's convention and nominated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as the Republican presidential candidate.

Lowndes County and most of South Georgia's counties, along with five Southern states, bucked their Democrat traditions in 1964 to give the majority of their votes to Republican Goldwater. In Lowndes County, Goldwater received 6,731 votes to LBJ's 4,361 votes. Lowndes County and those five Southern states were about the only places to give Goldwater a majority. Nationally, Johnson trounced Goldwater. LBJ's "61 percent of the vote exceeded FDR's record of 60.8 percent in 1936, as well as Richard Nixon's future mark of 60.7 percent (1972), for the remainder of the 20th century," according to historian Taylor Branch in his book, "Pillar Of Fire."

Goldwater's candidacy, which strongly opposed the recently enacted Civil Rights Act, was seen as a betrayal within the party of Lincoln by many long-time black Republicans, who fled the party in support of Johnson and the Democrats. To many black voters, "Goldwater shot Lincoln in the head as surely as John Wilkes Booth," according to one newspaper in 1964.

Though the 1964 election left the GOP in disarray, it realigned both parties' constituencies in terms of race and political views. Southerners didn't change their party affiliation -- and Democrats picked up the black vote -- but the majority of white Southerners no longer felt that the Democratic presidential nominees represented their views or interests.

Most election analysts predicted the South's support for Goldwater was a mere political blip, similar to the Dixiecrat movement of 1948. Additionally, by allowing the conservatives to dominate the GOP, a few political observers believed in 1964, that the Republican Party was moving toward extinction.

These analysts were wrong.

"A slow incoming tide (of political conservatism) was mistaken for an ebbing ripple," Branch writes. The conservative push that led to Southern Democrats to vote for Goldwater in '64 would be much stronger by 1980 and 1984, when "Reagan Democrats" would twice place Republican Ronald Reagan in the White House.

But by 1980, the majority of Lowndes County voters had already moved to a more conservative stance and had been there for years, though they still mostly remained Democrats on a local level.



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COMING MONDAY: A by-the-numbers look at Lowndes County's voting results during presidential elections since 1948.

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