"The party has shifted - I haven't," Tanner said. "You have liberals now talking about balancing the budget. They're not doing it for the same reasons I am, but the vote looks the same on paper."
Still, many Southern Democrats complain their party hurts its chances down South by choosing liberal national leaders, such as Nancy Pelosi of California.
Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., a conservative Democrat who challenged Pelosi for the party's top House job in 2002, says the problem is not the leadership, but the failure of Southern Democrats to demonstrate that they're not always in lockstep with those leaders.
"The national image of the Democratic Party does not sell well in the South," Ford said. "However, the position of national Democrats on fiscal matters, ironically, is more in line with where voters are. We have to do a better job of telling that story."