Aug. 21, 2003—Barbara Blackmon's race might hurt her chance at the lieutenant governor's post this November, but it might help put fellow Democrat Ronnie Musgrove back into the governor's mansion. That was one of the messages at the Aug. 11 Stennis Institute Capitol press corps luncheon at Hal and Mal's in downtown Jackson where two political scientists, one black and one white, predicted what is in store.
Jackson State University political science professor and Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore's crystal ball predicted that the Nov. 5 lieutenant governor election, where she faces Republican incumbent Amy Tuck, might go hard for Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, not because of the issues, he said, but simply because of her race. McLemore said that white people are increasingly Republican and that black people are increasingly Democrat and that this might reflect negatively on the November elections.
That is, enough blacks might turn out for Blackmon to elect Musgrove, but not to make up for the white voters the state senator might not pull. "That's going to be why it will be so difficult for Blackmon to win, but it will be easy for Musgrove to win because of Blackmon's voter base. Race will be an unspoken major factor in this campaign," McLemore said, and called the trend "disturbing."
"What's so bad is that it's not about issues. It's social. So many people are switching to the Republican Party because socially it's the thing to do. Now, clearly, there are economic gains to be made in that. But so many white Mississippians are making their decisions around social politics as opposed to issue politics. The division is certainly there, and unfortunately it is centered on race."
McLemore further pointed out the large white voter base of former Democratic Lt. Gov. candidate Jim Roberts, and voiced concern that some Democratic whites would abandon their support for Democratic issues merely to keep a white person at the lieutenant governor's post. He added that Blackmon may have to alter her political stance in order to keep these voters faithful.
"She will have to move more toward the middle, but she does have a good record. She's been an outspoken member of the Senate. She's fashioned some very good issues that cut across race and gender: jobs, health care and education," McLemore said.
Stennis Institute director Marty Wiseman also addressed race-based voting trends in Mississippi and pointed out that both the Democratic and the Republican parties could do more to entice diversity.
"It would be very unfortunate to have an all-white Republican Party and an all-black Democratic Party," Wiseman said. "When legitimate policy debates become racial arguments, we've got ourselves a real problem. I think the Democrats need to do more to shore up their white base, but I think if you look at Republican races maybe 5 or 6 percent of African-Americans vote Republican. I think Republicans need to adopt more positions to appeal to black voters."
— Joe Jackson