The Squeaker That Roared

It was supposed to be a close presidential election—a squeaker. The final polls were all over the map, but even among enthusiastic Democrats, few called the race a sure thing for President Barack Obama before the polls closed yesterday. And both sides were ready for legal battles—at the polls Tuesday and beyond, if necessary.

"They are all lawyered up, absolutely," election law expert Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine told The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday. "They have teams everywhere."

Yet, shortly after 10 p.m. CST and only a few hours after the first polls closed on the East Coast, TV networks began projecting Obama as the winner of Ohio's 18 electoral votes, declaring him the de facto winner of the hard-fought race. Other so-called battleground states fell one-by-one, and by this morning, the president had garnered 303 electoral votes to Romney's 206, and Obama was ahead in the popular vote by more than 2.7 million votes. (Florida, with its 29 Electoral College votes, has still not official declared a winner, although Obama retains a slight edge of about 47,000 votes, with more than 8.2 million counted.)

Mississippi's media have been calling on Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and professor of political science at Mississippi State University, for his take on elections and political issues for years, and even he was caught off guard.

"I was, frankly, prepared to discuss all of the different angles of how we settle this thing over the next three- or four-week period," he told the Jackson Free Press this morning, raising the specter of the contentious Bush/Gore race in November 2000, which was finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 12, 2000. "After all of the stories about thousands of poll watchers matched against thousands of Democratic lawyers, I just assumed that everything was so close that it was going to be that messy.

"Who would've guessed that it would be just as clear-cut a win—for either candidate—as it turned out to be?"

An unambiguous win, Wiseman indicated, is a good thing for the country, providing a mandate for the future.

Calling the Obama campaign strategy "masterful," Wiseman believes analysts will be digging into how and why it worked for some time.

"There will be textbooks written about that race for years to come," he said.

What didn't surprise Wiseman, though, are the results of Mississippi's votes. As expected, the state's six electoral votes went to Romney early in the evening. The final tally shows a 55.4 percent win for the Republican, with 43.7 percent voting Democratic.

"That is a classic Mississippi breakdown over the last two decades," he said. In national elections, Democrats automatically get 40 percent of the state's votes, based mostly along racial lines. Thirty-seven percent of Mississippi's citizens are African American, and they tend to vote for Democrats about 95 percent of the time, he said, a figure supported by an Associated Press exit poll in the state that found nine out of 10 black voters supported Obama. Wiseman puts white Dems at about 10 percent to 15 percent of the electorate. Factoring in those who don't vote, any election where the Democratic votes are in the low 40s is far from amazing.

"I wish there was a way to peel back the onion to figure out why Mississippi votes as it does," Wiseman said. He put the state as one of the top three "net gainers" for federal funds of all types; yet, majority voters are stuck on the idea that government is a bad thing. The roots of that attitude snake back into time—at least as far back as the 19th century.

"We believe that the Civil War was a dastardly action by the federal government in Washington against the southern states, and Mississippi in particular," he said. "Decade after decade after decade, the issues change, but our disdain and resentment toward Washington (is) a constant."

"… That disdain has clouded the fact that we don't mind having our hand out and taking all sorts of federal dollars from Washington."

The AP poll didn't put a number on it, but it did report that the majority of Mississippi voters said they had made up their minds months ago. Nine out of 10 white voters said they voted for Romney, and six in 10 voters said they believed the Republican former governor of Massachusetts was more in touch with people like them.

In the tri-county area, Hinds County citizens voted overwhelmingly, 72.2 percent, for the president. Rankin County was Hinds' near opposite, with 75.2 percent voting for Romney. In Madison County, voters look a bit more like the state's average: 55.4 percent voted for Romney, 42.1 percent for Obama. The African American population for the three counties is 69.1 percent, 19.7 percent and 38.4 percent, respectively, based on 2011 U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Nationally, however, the Republican edge among its base—white voters, especially men—is slipping, mostly because the nation's demographics are rapidly changing. Twenty years ago whites made up 87 percent of the electorate, wrote The Nation magazine today; in 2012, they're down to 72 percent. Meanwhile, Obama's support among minorities, women and young people remained strong in this election. Without the Republican Party making major, sincere concessions to win over more diverse voters, it's likely the GOP will face the same result four years from now.


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