But it will take more than demographics to rescue the once-dominant model of the centrist Southern Democrat, they agree: The party needs to spend less time on divisive social issues and more on middle-class economic concerns, and then hope that Barack Obama’s departure from the White House prompts skeptical white voters to give them a second look.

“We’re just trotting out the same old nostrums: a little class warfare here and a nod to labor unions there and more money for X, Y and Z programs,” said Bredesen. “People are looking for a vision.”

Most believe that vision will be found in pocketbook issues, particularly related to the middle class, including a revival of the more populist economic message that resonated during the first half of the 20th century. Support for student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, equal pay for equal work – all can be framed in a way that strengthens and bolsters the working class, Democrats say.

In 1962, every senator and an overwhelming majority of House members from the South was a Democrat. Next year, Democrats will control 39 of 149 Southern congressional seats, fewer than at any time since Reconstruction. The GOP won each of the seven governor’s races in the South this year as well, padding majorities in state legislatures across the region.