Primaries Still About Local Elections
In our analysis yesterday, we noted that the Democratic primary was still the preferred option for Mississippians. As of the most recent count, 395,236 voters chose the Democratic primary while 282,145 voted in the Republican primary.
Those numbers represent record highs for the Republicans and record lows for Democrats (in terms of shares of the electorate), but there were still more than 100,000 more voters on the Democratic side. I suppose Democrats are happy with this, and there was talk that Republicans might gain parity with the Democrats in their regard, but that never happened.
At the end of the day, pundits can look at this and offer analysis, but it is as simple as one thing: local candidates. Voters will still vote for their county supervisor or sheriff or any other county office over statewide candidates. If they still run as Democrats, they will vote in that primary. If they have switched to the GOP, they will then move to that primary.
Consider this example where there were several party switchers: In Lee county, Republican candidates for sheriff (which included incumbent Jim Johnson running as a Republican for the first time) received 12,329 votes compared to 4,043 on the Democratic side. Four years ago, Democratic candidates for governor received 12,766 votes in the county compared to 2,851 votes for the Republicans. Yet when all was said and done in November, Haley Barbour won 59 percent of the vote, or 12,191 votes compared to 8,889 votes for Democrat John Arthur Eaves. (Or nearly 4,000 less than the party received in the primary).
Did this recent primary vote change occur because of some major change of heart? No, it solely had to do with Johnson and other local elected officials in the county joining the Republican Party. Just like voters would have stayed in the Democratic primary had the local officials stayed.
On a side note, Lee was really one of the last of the major suburban counties still voting in the Democratic primary. A similar situation occurred in Jones, one of the other large counties that still voted Democratic in primaries, until Tuesday.
The GOP will certainly continue to work at bringing county Democrats into the party. And this is likely the best strategy at both gaining local officials and primary votes. But this leads to the next question, how much does this matter? Having a Democratic sheriff in Lafayette county did little to hurt Barbour in the county where he won 67 percent of the vote, for example.
But you also make the argument that this is where you build your political bench. Former Rep. Travis Childers was a longtime chancery clerk before winning his House seat. Brandon Presley, the northern district public service commissioner, was a mayor before winning election in 2007. That bench hasn’t been able to move up to statewide offices, and in most cases is plenty happy at the local level.