Ideology: Conservatives versus Moderates
UNKNOWINGLY AND UNINTENTIONALLY, THE DEMOCRATS WERE ABOUT TO surrender a minor political windfall to the Republicans in the spring of 1988. Super Tuesday, the Southern presidential megaprimary, the political event whose designers, the southeastern wing of the Council of State Governments and the Democratic Leadership Conference, hoped would produce a moderate Democratic presidential candidate and bring defected Southern Democrats back home from the Republican party, became a tool in the GOP's twenty-year struggle to push the ideological image of Southern Democrats to the liberal left. Republican operatives in the Southern primary states sought, in the words of Haley Barbour, coordinator of the "Southern primary project," to paint the picture that "there will be a liberal primary [the Democrats] and a conservative primary [the Republicans]" ( Edsall 1988, A4). The Republicans promoted the idea that Jesse Jackson would win the Democratic primary and attacked the moderate "credentials" of Senator Al Gore Jr. ( Edsall 1988, A4). By developing and exploiting the image that the Democratic primary represented a choice between "white liberals and a black," the Republicans sought to deplete the "Democratic primary of white conservatives" ( Edsall 1988, A4).
Although this strategy did not fully meet the Republicans' expectations, they nonetheless made some gains. Every Southern Super Tuesday primary state posted increases in Republican primary participation. For example, in Texas only 500,000 voted in the 1980 GOP presidential primary. In the 1988 GOP presidential primary 900,000 Texans voted. In Florida 615,000 voted in the Republican presidential primary in 1980, while 877,000 voted in 1988. All together, compared to 1980, about 1.5 million more voters participated in the 1988 Southern GOP presidential primaries ( Oreskes 1988, A28).