Measuring the Democratic Mess | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Measuring the Democratic Mess

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Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree's campaign held out until his landslide loss in the governor's race was clear.

Once again, election night last week revealed a grim reality for Mississippi Democrats and the Mississippi Democratic Party.

Just minutes after polls closed statewide, the Associated Press began delivering dismal news for Democrats, calling the races of state auditor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state for Republicans. In these races, the GOP didn't even have token Democratic opposition. While incumbency often increases a candidate's chances for reelection--the case for secretary of state and state auditor--the Mississippi Democratic Party failed to field a candidate for the open seat of lieutenant governor.

In Hattiesburg, the atmosphere for the city's mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Johnny DuPree made for an evening of defiance until the inevitable loomed.

"We know for a fact that Jackson and Hinds County haven't even reported," John Brown, DuPree's assistant, said from the stage at Hattiesburg's Lake Terrace Convention Center. Then he led the crowd in chants of "Believe."

When the AP called the race early with results from about half the precincts statewide, DuPree's supporters held out optimism until even the longest of long shot possibilities faded.

The avalanche of GOP support proved too much for three-term Mayor DuPree, who lost 60 of the state's 82 counties, amounting to a landslide loss by about 39 percent to Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant's 61 percent. Most of DuPree's support came from the Delta and the Jackson area.


 Bryant earned the title of governor-elect by receiving close to 200,000 more votes than DuPree.

Other Democratic candidates, including Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran in the race for state treasurer, saw similar results as DuPree. Moran received even fewer votes in the race for state treasurer against Republican Lynn Fitch, director of the state's personnel board.

But the punch that knocked the wind out of state Democrats came later in the week, when a sprinkling of legislative races showed a likely Republican majority in the state House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction, albeit a likely slim majority of 64 to 58.

This gives the GOP control of the House, the Senate and the Governor's mansion.

A Republican will even fill the seat held by northeast Mississippi Yellow Dog Democrat Billy McCoy, the current speaker of the House who chose not to seek reelection.

For the third consecutive election cycle for statewide offices, only Attorney General Jim Hood managed to provide a singular bright spot for Democrats in Mississippi. He easily won a third term with about 61 percent of the vote against Republican candidate Steve Simpson.

'Not a Big Surprise'

For many observers of southern politics, election-night losses for Mississippi didn't come as a surprise. Similar situations have happened throughout the South. Just last month, voters in Louisiana re-elected incumbent Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to office by about two-thirds of the vote in a field of nine candidates.

Steve Shaffer, a professor in Mississippi State University's Department of Political Science and Public Administration, has studied southern politics for more than 30 years, focusing on polling. Based on trends in recent elections, last week's election results didn't surprise him.

"Democrats really have a problem," he said, reviewing his data from elections in 11 southern states in recent decades. "It's not a big surprise--it's the whole region."

Shaffer said Mississippi's election results add to the longtime switch of southern whites to the Republican Party.

"They look at the national Democratic Party and say 'they're too liberal,'" Shaffer said. "This is part of the nationalization of politics on the state level."

Republicans in southern states--identified by Shaffer as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia--have held the majority of U.S. House of Representatives and Senate seats and governors offices in the region since 1994. This reaffirms the transition of the south to a national base for the GOP.

While DuPree made history as the first African American to earn the gubernatorial nomination of a major party in the Magnolia State, Shaffer didn't see that race as a major factor to the dismal Democratic outcome. Lack of financial resources factored into the election and contributed to the outcome with Bryant outspending DuPree by $5 million. "It's hard to win if you've got no money," he said. "It's even harder if you're not an incumbent, because you have to build up name recognition."

Sam Hall, DuPree's campaign manager and executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Party from April 2009 to July 2010, disagreed. He said Republican support in tight legislative races hurt DuPree. Hall also said strong Republican turnout for the three initiatives on the ballot also hurt DuPree.

Hall said larger forces worked against DuPree and other Democrats in the state, saying voters seem to significantly favor Republicans. He said the state's trend toward Republican candidates has hurt Democrats.

"We have seen right now that Mississippi right now is a 60/40 state," Hall said. "I don't think there's any one thing to indicate why this race didn't go the way it did.

While the campaign manager of the losing side may be reluctant to criticize his team's game plan, others did.

Jere Nash, a Democratic political consultant, declined to comment for this story, saying he needed more time to digest the results. However, he posted Nov. 10 on Red/Blue, his former Clarion-Ledger blog, that two factors influenced election--the three voter initiatives on the ballot and Johnny DuPree.

The initiatives--proposed amendments to the state constitution on voter ID, eminent domain and "personhood"--drove GOP supporters to the polls, Nash blogged. Compared to the voters who cast ballots for initiatives with those who voted for governor, totals are almost identical. Nash said DuPree's campaign failed to generate excitement among the Democratic base, hurting key legislative races in the process.

"The folks coming out to vote on Tuesday were not coming out to vote for Johnny DuPree," Nash wrote. "The voter tail wind created by the 61-39 Bryant/DuPree spread brought plenty of other Republican candidates across the finish line on election night and no doubt made the difference in many close elections that were down the ballot."

Whatever the cause for Democratic Election Day woes, systemic problems remain in fundraising, fielding strong candidates and improving the state party's image.

Rickey Cole, who accepted the position of state Democratic Party executive director a few months ago, said he and others are up for the task. Cole said he isn't shocked by the result of the recent statewide elections, however.

"Frankly, we Democrats didn't prepare sufficiently for Nov. 8 and the results reflect that," he said. "Organization matters. Money matters."

One thing remains certain--as Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree resumes his focus to the citizens of his city, state Democratic leaders will try to figure out how large a broom they'll need to clean up their mess.

Previous Comments

ID
165411
Comment

I feel the Democratic Party needs to step away from having candidates that try to compete with the GOP in a "more conservative than thou" contest. Someone needs to fight the lies that they have managed to ingrain into the voters subconscious - the lies that have held Mississippi down. How many years must we languish as the poorest state in the union before people figure out "conservative" policies are not benefiting us? SECTION 247 of the constitution states : "The legislature shall enact laws to secure fairness in party primary elections, conventions, or other methods of naming party candidates." Our current system of totally open primaries does not by any measure live up to our own Constitution's requirement of fairness. Cross-over voting leads to electioneering. We must make adjustments. Our 'elected' 'leaders' are not going to do it because it is in our best interests, but not theirs. Like any effort, it will take lots of people power to get done. Question is, do enough people really care to make a change? Suggested Ballot Initiatives

Author
BobbyKearan
Date
2011-11-16T13:13:00-06:00
ID
165412
Comment

Sixty years ago, most white Mississippians voted for Democratic candidates. Now, most white Mississippians vote for Republican candidates. White people have changed over the last fifty years, but I don't think they've changed THAT much. They have just realigned with the national parties, which have changed a bunch in sixty years. Unfortunately, this may not have been too smart of a switch, to be aligned with the party who is most interested in cutting federal spending -- we get over two dollars back, each year, for every one dollar of tax we pay. http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/266.html $2 for $1 is a great investment! Even if we all paid less federal taxes as a result of a reduction in the size of the federal government, it is HIGHLY unlikely that every one of us would see a 100% annual return on the money we didn't pay as taxes. Whether a major drop in federal money might be good for Mississippi in the long term is a different argument. In the short term, it doesn't seem too smart. (BTW, who did black Mississippians vote for sixty years ago? Can't pin a similar switcheroo on them!!)

Author
Leland Jr
Date
2011-11-16T13:38:12-06:00
ID
165413
Comment

I'm just thrilled to see my poly sci professor from State, Steve Shaffer, quoted in my newspaper. Hey, Dr. Shaffer!

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2011-11-16T16:13:12-06:00
ID
165414
Comment

(BTW, who did black Mississippians vote for sixty years ago? Can't pin a similar switcheroo on them!!) Leland it was the Republican party during Reconstruction and the Compromise of 1877 changed the game of politics. The Civil Rights movement shifted it to the Democratic Party with Kennedy and Johnson (which is an argument amongst black "conservatives") Paradigm Shift in party's but not in views or philosophy.

Author
Duan C.
Date
2011-11-16T16:21:37-06:00
ID
165415
Comment

Several months ago here in Jackson, I saw a local black activist say on one of the minor or access-TV channels say. '...we (black voters) have taken control of the (Democratic) Party." I thought to myself 'Ok it is a racial struggle' Later this week I spoke to a black guy who made the assumption that since I was white I was a Republican. I am actually more of a Green than any established political association. Methinks political ideas should be based on values and not a simple calculation based on ethnicity. The race-based politics will not elevate reason and justice in public affairs any more than class-based political parties. Political ideas must be universal and speak to the mind. Purely pragmatic political activity is too thin to activate political action on a mass scale. The occupy movement has some promise for our politics but it too is very narrowly based on social class.

Author
Aeroscout
Date
2011-11-16T17:28:00-06:00
ID
165416
Comment

Duan: I think Leland Jr. is making the point that you can't pin a "switcheroo" on black Mississippians... because 60 years ago they'd have had trouble casting a vote at all. (Might be reading into that...)

Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2011-11-16T18:38:36-06:00
ID
165417
Comment

Thanks, Todd, and sorry, Duan, if my sarcasm didn't come out right - but Todd clarified it correctly. All the Jim Crow crap still really makes me mad, especially when people conveniently forget that it wasn't that long ago. @Aeroscout: I'm with you, man - but in reality we just don't seem to be able to shake loose the race ties. There are some great books, in particular the excellent In Search of Another Country by Joe Crespino, that cover what's gone on with race and politics in our state, and it'll take us a while unfortunately to let much of that die out (literally).

Author
Leland Jr
Date
2011-11-16T20:26:55-06:00
ID
165418
Comment

@ Leland - its all good, I kind of figured that - just wanted you to do some deeper research. @ Todd - living in Mississippi, better yet as a black american - I took for granted that a lot of people knew that.

Author
Duan C.
Date
2011-11-17T08:19:40-06:00
ID
165419
Comment

Focusing on the state Democratic Party further one realizes that it is hopelessly mired in racial politics of the last century and in the tired welfare economy of the Great Society. The Republican Party has the weathered ideas of Adam Smith and the Enlightenment to re-hash. The fundamental question of what to do with humans in a system in which technological advances are out stripping societies basic understanding of itself...is left blank. We produce more with less human inputs. An able and educated workforce is left to their own devices. Modern politics will have to deal with structural unemployment and continued medical/technological advances that make us healthier but without work for more and more people.

Author
Aeroscout
Date
2011-11-17T09:28:17-06:00
ID
165421
Comment

@ Todd - living in Mississippi, better yet as a black american - I took for granted that a lot of people knew that. No doubt. It just sounded like you didn't realize that was the point *Leland* was making. Carry on!

Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2011-11-17T10:22:26-06:00
ID
165426
Comment

One very important point not made by others...Dupree lost his own county. So he could not sell himself to those that really knew him.

Author
Aeroscout
Date
2011-11-17T20:41:43-06:00
ID
165428
Comment

@Aeroscout: The fact that he lost the county may not be a big factor. Since the election is being played out in terms of race, Forrest County is majority White, only about a third of the county is Black. He's the mayor of Hattiesburg which has almost as many people as Forrest County which is sparsely populated at best. If you looked at the city, I'm sure he won there.

Author
833WMaple
Date
2011-11-18T10:22:48-06:00

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