Democrats Hope to Retake South with Women ; South Carolina's Inez Tenenbaum Epitomizes a Group of Conservative Women Running in the South

By Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

Democrats Hope to Retake South with Women ; South Carolina's Inez Tenenbaum Epitomizes a Group of Conservative Women Running in the South


Gail Russell Chaddock writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In her pale-blue silk suit, South Carolina educator Inez Tenenbaum looks out of place alongside the submachine guns and copper moonshine stills at the Criminal Justice Academy here, where she is announcing her anti-crime plan.

But "soft" on crime - or anything else - is a rap she aims to dispatch early in a campaign that could tip the US Senate back to Democrats this fall.

From Day 1 of her Senate race, Tenenbaum, a two-term elected state superintendent of education, signaled that she will not trip up on issues that have derailed Democrats across the South, especially the tag of being soft on crime, weak on family values, or too close to "big spending liberals" in Washington.

"There is no Democratic or Republican way to fight crime, there's only the South Carolina way. We have to put protection of our citizens over partisanship," she said at her June 28 anti-crime event.

It's a theme she hits on every issue: South Carolina first. Political analysts say that it's a shrewd bid to distance herself from national Democrats, such as presidential nominee presumptive John Kerry, who are widely viewed in this state as too liberal.

The top vote-getter in the state, in either party, Tenenbaum represents the new face of a new Southern strategy for Democrats: recruiting strong, independent women who fit the state, even if they are at odds with the national party.

Like Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Tenenbaum hopes to beat the tide running against Democrats by appealing to moderate swing voters, many of whom are women.

She supports the death penalty, the right to bear arms, and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"Being tough on crime is one way of trying to reassure Southern moderates and conservatives that 'I'm in touch with the electorate,' " says Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. "She is saying: 'Don't look at me as some kind of liberal who, if I went off to the Senate, would fall into bad company, like Ted Kennedy,' " he adds.

Democrats once owned politics in the South, but have been in a decline since conservative Democrats broke with the national party over civil rights. That trend accelerated in the 1990s, when Republicans swept into office up and down the ballot on a pro- family, lower-tax, anti-crime agenda.

Democrats in Senate races across the south welcomed the selection of North Carolina Sen. …

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