Max Cleland's defeat in the 2002 U.S. Senate race in Georgia marked the demise of the state's long dominant Democratic Party.
Although Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, he was defeated by the Republican draft dodger Saxby Chambliss in the post Sept. 11 hyper-patriotic frenzy.
A scurrilous Chambliss campaign ad impugned Cleland's patriotism, showing photos of Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks, and Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind. Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain and Chuck Hagel, both known for their heroic service in Vietnam, condemned the ad.
After the loss, Cleland battled depression and anxiety from the PTSD he had repressed while serving as a Georgia state senator, Georgia's secretary of state, head of the Veterans Administration during the Carter Administration and one term in the U.S. Senate.
Cleland died Tuesday at age 79 of congestive heart failure, according to the AJC and New York Times. The excellent AJC political columnist Patricia Murphy, who worked on Cleland's staff before her journalistic career, gave a warm portrait of Cleland's private side.
Chambliss' victory signified an impending GOP tide that swept over the South, a tidal wave that reached its fullest intensity in Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton.
The Supreme Court declaring George W. Bush's victory over popular vote winner Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race began the Republican rise to dominance across the South, ending a progressive era that followed the region's resistance to intregration and civil rights.
In Georgia, Cleland's loss presaged that of moderate Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes to Republican Sonny Perdue. Barnes' push to remove the Confederate battlefield insignia from the Georgia flag was a significant factor in Cleland's loss, and brought Barnes' doom.
Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Florida and even Mississippi and Alabama had seen Democratic progressives make gains in governors' seats and state legislatures from the 1970s through the 1990s.
But with Bush political guru Karl Rove guiding strategy following the Sept. 11 attacks, the GOP's malevolent political campaigns led to the party winning the South, finishing efforts begun by Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich.
For more than a century after the Civil War, the GOP barely existed in the South because of its connection to Abraham Lincoln and Republican rule during Reconstruction.
But following the virulent racism and intransigent opposition to segregation championed by Southern Democratic senators like Georgia's Richard Russell and Mississippi's John Stennis, the Voting Rights Act increased black political power in the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, following Nixon and Reagan, turned violently to the right.
The right-wing Republican Party has ruled the South throughout the 21st century, repressing black voter rights, cutting taxes on the wealthy and slashing public services, and attacking women's abortion rights.
Democratic progressives have made significant gains in recent years, with Joe Biden winning Georgia over Donald Trump and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning U.S. Senate campaigns.
But Republican Glenn Youngkin's recent shocking victory in Virginia crushed rosy Democratic dreams of retaking the South. The GOP remains in control of state legislatures, giving them power over redistricting before the crucial 2022 midterm elections,
May Cleland's heroic career inspire a re-dedication to the ideals he championed.