The power of quiet Democrats

A Liberal Dose


 Back in the summer of 2021, I did a series of columns in this newspaper called “When White County was Blue.” I was musing about the fact that, for most of my life, White County was so solidly Democratic that for all intents and purposes the Democratic Primary was the real election (for virtually all offices), and the General Election only a technicality. I’m going to share a lengthy quote from the first column in that series:

“I looked at the presidential results in White County for every election between 1900 and 2020. Allow me to tell you how many times the Republican carried White County in the 20th century (25 elections).


“The first time was in 1972: Nixon vs. McGovern. Nixon won 60% to 37% (I will give all the results in terms of percentages)... Still, it was closer in White County than it was nationwide, where the margin was 68% to 30%. The only other time was 1988, when Bush, Sr. beat Dukakis on the national stage 58% to 42%. In White County, though, Bush’s victory was razor-thin: 50% to 49%, or a margin of only 82 votes…

“Reagan won Tennessee both times (1980 & 1984), but not White County. Bill Clinton won by large margins both times. Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee to Bush, but he won White County 53% to 45%. But in 2004 Bush beat Kerry, 56% to 44% -the numbers were reversed. Obama lost in 2008 63% to 35%, 68% to 31% in 2012. Trump won 78% to 19% in 2016, 81% to 18% in 2020.”

White County’s “red” status is relatively recent. A lot of folks who have moved here in the last 20 years might never have guessed that, and I guess a lot of people who are from here but under 30 might not have known it. I think a lot of folks who are from here but are over 30 have FORGOTTEN it and forgotten which ticket they themselves used to punch.

Nowadays, it seems that only about one out of every five voters in White County votes Democratic. That’s not many. But let’s take a look at some actual numbers where registered voters are concerned.

In the 2020 presidential election, there were 16,637 registered voters in White County. Of those, 11,929 actually turned out - or about72%. By the time of the 2022 midterms, there were 17,350 voters, out of whom 7,033 turned out - or 40.5%. Smaller turnout when the White House is not at stake is the norm. But think about that total number of registered voters - 17,350. If the one-in-five ratio holds up, that means there are about 3,500 Democratic-leaning voters in this county. 3,500 people in a place this size is NOT an insignificant number.

And I hear from them.

Some of them are people who’ve moved in (thought the majority of people moving in lately have been conservatives from blue states). Many are younger people from here who have more progressive or liberal ideas than the majority. And a good many of them are people my age or older, who never did switch over to supporting Republicans. A lot of those people are quiet about their political beliefs, being in the minority -but they’re there. Turnout among registered Democrats tends to be small in rural Tennessee counties - because they are discouraged. They know their preferred presidential candidates have very little chance of winning here.

But you know what? A couple of thousand here and a couple of thousand there, added to the Democratic majorities in large cities, can make a HUGE difference in a statewide race (governor or U.S. senator). It could help send Marsha Blackburn home at the end of this year and pick up a seat in the Senate for Democrats.

So, if you’re a quiet Democrat… don’t be discouraged. Get out and vote. Your vote CAN make a difference.

--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech and serves on the executive committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.          


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