The solid South isn’t as solidly Republican as it once was, a fact which could give Barack Obama 55 more electoral votes and help put the Democratic presidential nominee in the White House, a veteran political analyst said.

Hastings Wyman, editor of the Southern Political Report, says he expects Obama to carry Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, three states which would give him 55 electoral votes, a feat not achieved by a Democratic presidential candidate in decades.

“When I turned on the TV this morning I saw where Obama was making three appearances today,” said Wyman, speaking at the Southern Crop Production Association’s annual meeting in Charles, S.C., on Monday. “Those stops were scheduled to be in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.”

Wyman, a native of Aiken, S.C., recounted how the Old South had been totally Democratic from the end of the Civil War until World War II. That began to change in the 1950s, and the South has voted for only two Democratic presidential candidates, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Southerners, since the 1960s.

This year’s political contest has been remarkable, said Wyman. “It has been exciting from the get-go, and it has excited the public. Millions of new voters have registered and many millions have voted early.”

GOP presidential hopeful John McCain could still carry most of the Southern states with the remaining 113 electoral votes. “Georgia is very close; it could go either way,” said Wyman. “I’ve seen polls showing McCain one or two points ahead (in Georgia), and others showing they’re tied.”

This was the fifth election analysis Wyman had provided for the SCPA annual meeting, which is generally held the first Monday and Tuesday in November. Wyman began writing the Southern Political Report in the 1980s.

Wyman spoke briefly about the Bradley or Wilder effect, which he called the “Great secret white hope for Republicans.” According to either, voters supposedly will tell pollsters they’re voting for a black candidate when they actually plan to vote the opposite.

He said he doesn’t see the phenomenon having much effect in the 2008 election, especially in the South. “I sense that white voters in the South are quite comfortable telling pollsters they are voting for McCain.

“We also have a generation of voters coming up who are not so race conscious,” he said. “I thought there might be some of that this time, but in most of these polls Obama is over 50 percent and I don’t believe that will be a factor.”

Those electoral votes in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and possibly Georgia will contribute to what Wyman called “Obama’s nationwide victory.” Several factors are driving the Democrat’s success, he noted.

“In the last eight to 10 months, we have seen a huge increase in registered voters, and they have not been across the board. There have been more Democrats registering to vote than Republicans in those states where they identify by party; there have been more African-Americans in excess of their percentage of the populations; and many more young people than before.”

Another factor is a huge increase in early voting, “and the last numbers I’ve seen are that 59 percent of those voters are going for Obama.”

Wyman said Democrats could also pick up five new Senate seats and seven to eight new House seats in the South. Among the Republicans who could be defeated are Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

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