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Ronald Wilson Reagan Case Study

AS SEEN IN USA TODAY NEWS SECTION, FRI-SUN, JUNE 11-13, 2004, PAGE 2A

Southerner recalls politician who picked Democratic lock

The percentage of white conservatives in the South who identified themselves as Republicans was 40% in 1980, when Reagan was first elected president. That percentage grew to 60% in 1988 and 69% in 2000.

ATLANTA By the time Ronald Reagan first ran for president in 1980, Marvin Brown's folks were longtime Democratic stalwarts who voted a straight party ticket.

"You weren't just expected to vote Democrat," says Brown, 50, of Atlanta. "You could get excommunicated from the family if you didn't."

Brown was a construction superintendent who had voted Democratic until then. "I had learned that the Republicans were for the rich, and the Democrats were for working class people."

By Michael A. Schwarz, USA TODAY

Impressed: Marvin Brown of Atlanta comes from a family with a long Democratic tradition, but Reagan won his vote in the 1980 election.

By 1980, though, Brown was moving more in business circles. "I was getting different points of view," he says.

Reagan impressed him. "In every speech, he was direct. He took firm positions, but he was upbeat at the same time," says Brown, president of VinRam, a high-tech venture-capital company. "That caught my attention. I started listening to him." And he cast his first Republican vote.

Many of Brown's fellow Southerners felt the same. In The Rise of Southern Republicans, Earl and Merle Black argue that Reagan, racial dynamics, religious conservatism and population growth transformed the region into a Republican stronghold.

"In the South, the Reagan realignment of the 1980s was a momentous achievement," they write. "Reagan's presidency made possible the Republicans' congressional breakthrough in the 1990s."

Brown says he liked Reagan's "trickle-down economics" and his emphasis on small business. "I had always thought there was big business and the working man," he says. "But he believed in small business." Brown also liked Reagan's strong stand on defense "and the fact that he backed down the communists. He basically engineered the fall of the Berlin Wall."

Brown says the greatest presidents of the past century were Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan. His family would agree with him on the first. The second? Perhaps not. "You know when I told my mother I voted Republican?" he says. "Two weeks ago."

By Larry Copeland

Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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