THE days of the Dixiecrat may be coming to an end.
The retirement of Sam Nunn of Georgia, one of the Senate's most
respected Democrats and a leader on defense issues, signals the end
of an era for the South.
His decision not to run for reelection in 1996 also deals a
heavy blow to the Democratic Party, which is seeing its dream of
retaking control of the Senate next year fade.
A more likely question is whether Republicans, who control 53 of
100 seats, will hold a filibuster-proof majority of 60 after the
next election. Mr. Nunn is the eighth Democratic senator to bow out
of the 1996 election. Only one Republican is not running again.
But for the South, once the backbone of the Democratic Party,
Nunn's departure Monday is nothing less than a watershed.
"It's a major change for Georgia politics, for Southern
politics, and maybe even national politics," says Charles Bullock,
political scientist at the University of Georgia, Athens. "The way
he went about his job was emblematic of an approach that used to be
very widespread and now is nearing extinction."
"It really is the end of an era," concurs political analyst
Three other longtime Southern Democratic senators - Bennett
Johnston of Louisiana, Howell Heflin of Alabama, and David Pryor of
Arkansas - have also announced they will not seek reelection. So
Nunn's announcement leaves only Ernest Hollings of South Carolina
and Charles Robb of Virginia representing conservative Southern
Democrats in the Senate.
But Senator Robb is more of a "national" conservative and
Senator Hollings doesn't evoke the same rural, regional traits that
Dixiecrats like Nunn have, Cook says.
Nunn's departure also represents a blow to bipartisanship in an
institution where working cooperatively with members of the other
party is becoming less and less common. Younger, brasher members of
the Senate, such as Rick Santorum (R) of Pennsylvania, tend to come
out of the Newt Gingrich school of governance.
Before Nunn's announcement Monday, senators from both parties
were trying to persuade the Georgian to run for a fifth term, which
he likely would have won. (His approval rating in Georgia was more
than 70 percent.) Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina, the
Senate's only nonagenarian and chairman of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, the panel Nunn headed when Democrats were in
the majority, made a strong plea for him to stay on. …