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Can The GOP Make Inroads Into Local Politics?

November 9, 2009
tags: Mississippi Democrats, Mississippi GOP
by Brett

As I hinted at last week, we recently saw several Simpson County officials switch party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. The Clarion-Ledger has a good article on this story as Simpson County becomes one of the first rural counties in the state to be run by Republicans.

To an outsider who only notices how the state votes for president, or even Senator, it may be shocking to find out how handily Democrats control local county politics. Of course, not too long ago- Democrats controlled everything- from the Congressional delegation down to county supervisors (and everything in between). What we have witnessed over the past quarter-century or so is the Democrats simply trying to play defense and maintain what they have. The GOP has been on offense picking away a little at a time.

Brad White, the state GOP Chairman, was quoted in the article as saying that you need to build a party from the ground up. And while that is true- the GOP’s ascendancy has been starting at the top.

Let’s look at federal elections. The state first gave her electoral votes to a Republican in 1964 when Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson (long before they would think of electing a Republican in the state). Following Reconstruction, the state had supported a Democrat the previous 18 times. The state would cast their vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976 making him the last Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election. Two years later the state would elect the first Republican Senator- Thad Cochran who replaced a retiring James Eastland. When John Stennis retired in 1988, Trent Lott would take his place. Republicans have held those seats since.

It’s easy to see why these would be the first elections to flip to the Republican column in Mississippi. The connection and loyalty one might have had to the local Democrat party means essentially nothing in these races. It is far easier to tie a Senator with the liberal national party then other races in the state, and for obvious reason.

The next hurdle the GOP overcame was statewide elections. Kirk Fordice was elected the first Republican governor in 1991. When Haley Barbour finishes his second term in 2011, Republicans will have held the position for 16 of the last 20 years. Moving down to the other statewide offices, Democrats controlled seven of the eight posts after the 1999 elections. That is now essentially flipped with the GOP owning seven of eight.

Once again, the GOP is able to run on message for the larger races and explain the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Also, it doesn’t hurt that they have generally had a much easier time raising money then the Democrats.

The last remaining areas of Democrat strength is in the state legislature and county offices. The GOP has made some ground (in the state legislature) but certainly lack the numbers one would expect in such a red state. To the Democrats credit, they have remained effective in making the race about the person not the party (or even politics in some cases). Many times you are voting for a person you go to church with, not with an elephant or a donkey. Obviously, this doesn’t really come in to play in statewide elections. In other cases, the GOP is facing something that is very difficult to defeat- culture. In many rural places, the culture is local Democrats. Like any culture that you want to change, it doesn’t come easy or quick.

The only race that I can think of where Democrats have gone on offense and won on converted GOP territory is MS-01. Without going into too much detail about the specific race, Travis Childers had the ability to relate with what Marty Wiseman calls the courthouse crowd.

When you consider where the GOP was 30 years ago with where they are today, it really is amazing. I am glad to see Brad White and the GOP putting extra focus on the local office holders.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen R. Jernigan permalink
    November 10, 2009 1:00 am

    We are so excited about the Simpson Couunty Democratic elected officials switching to the Republican Party. Brad White is a great leader for the Mississippi Republican Party.

    Look out, there is more to come! Not to mention, Travis Childers could be a one termer in the 1st Congressional District!

  2. Steve Rankin permalink
    November 14, 2009 5:40 pm

    “Following Reconstruction, the state had supported a Democrat the previous 18 times. “

    Third party and independent tickets gave Mississippians a non-Democratic choice other than the Republicans. In 1948, the state voted 87.2% for the States Rights ticket, which featured our governor as Gov. Strom Thurmond’s running mate. In 1960, a slate of unpledged electors carried the Magnolia State with 39%; our electors wound up voting for Sen. Harry Byrd Sr. of Virginia, rather than either John Kennedy or Richard Nixon.

    In 1964, as you noted, the Republican Barry Goldwater carried Mississippi with 87.1%. In 1968, the independent George Wallace of Alabama won the state, with the Democrat Hubert Humphrey coming in second and the Republican Richard Nixon running third with 13.5%.

    Nixon won the state in 1972 with 76.1%, and except for the Democrat Carter’s narrow win in 1976, the Republicans have carried this state in every presidential election since.

    It’s worth noting that Rep. Thad Cochran was elected U. S. senator in 1978 with 45%. Running as an independent, Charles Evers got 22.9%, almost all of which would have otherwise gone to the Democrat Maurice Dantin, who got 31.8% (another black independent, Henry Kirksey, got 0.3%).

    It should also be noted that the black vote, which routinely goes 90%-plus Democratic, is a major reason why more candidates don’t run as Republicans. A candidate in a jurisdiction with a sizable black population knows he would be kissing off a big chunk of the vote if he ran as a Republican.

    BTW: Prentiss Walker, a Mize chicken farmer, was elected to the U. S. House in 1964 on Goldwater’s coattails, defeating a 22-year incumbent Democrat. Walker foolishly gave up his House seat in 1966 to run against Sen. Jim Eastland.

  3. November 16, 2009 10:50 am

    Thanks for the correction re: 48 and 60. I agree with you about the black vote in many cases, but there are plenty of places where it is insignificant yet local Dems still hold power.

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