A New Map for American Politics

As an associate professor of political science specializing in the U.S. electoral system, Tom Schaller is usually excited come Election Day. But Nov. 7 will bring added anticipation as Schaller celebrates the publication of his latest book, “Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South” and waits to see how his strategic map for Democrats’ electoral success holds up to the will of the people.

The book argues that religion and race have already swung the South irrevocably to the GOP and "values voters." Schaller advises the Democrats to focus on the Midwest and Interior West states, made more receptive to Democratic messages thanks to pocketbook issues and changing demographics.

"Dixie" was published by Simon & Schuster and edited by the legendary Alice Mayhew, who also works with best-selling authors Jimmy Carter, Bob Woodward and Stephen Ambrose. The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Kirkus Reviews, The Economist, and The Chicago Tribune have given "Dixie" good reviews. The Times seems to like Schaller's writing, as he recently began an election-year columnist stint for Times Select, the paper's premium online content.

According to Schaller, "Dixie" began as a conventional wisdom-challenging conversation with a former graduate school colleague. "He said, so matter-of-factly, that the Democrats could win without the South," said Schaller. "I thought about it a lot, started looking at the historical numbers and the more recent data, and realized the case could be made -- and made easily." Schaller traveled to five states - part of what he calls the "Democratic Diamond": Ohio, Wisconsin, Montana, Colorado and Arizona - plus South Carolina, to research the book.

Unlike many Washington pundits, Schaller is up front about his longtime loyalty to Democratic causes and candidates. “I think it's important to be transparent about my partisanship and personal preferences as a way to mitigate media bias,” said Schaller.

One of Schaller's former students, Sean Latanishen (Political Science, '02) worked as a research assistant and one-man ideological check-and-balance system during the writing of "Dixie." "Sean is brilliant, and has an encyclopedic grasp of modern American politics," Schaller said. "That he is a conservative only helped, because he's a natural skeptic of many of my arguments. He is that rare student who keeps me on my heels with his tough questions and challenges."

The midterm elections will offer no respite for Schaller, whose analysis will be in high demand by regional and national media. In the past three years, he's written 20 columns for the Washington Examiner, over 30 pieces for a variety of newspapers and magazines, and has blogged for The Gadflyer and the American Prospect. Despite this prolific resume, Schaller doesn't plan to become a full-time author anytime soon.

"The sum total is that I've really written two books in the past three years, while editing and publishing a co-authored third book," said Schaller. "So all I really want to do after the election is to go into hiding for a while and spend some time with my wife and dog."

Schaller will discuss "Dixie" on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 4 p.m. in the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery as part of UMBC's Social Sciences Forum.