GREENWOOD — Put a fork in ’em. The Democrats are done as a statewide force in Mississippi, and it may take a generation or longer before that changes.
Things were already not looking good for the two-party system to remain viable in this state, but the Nov. 5 general election sealed the deal.
Tate Reeves’ wider-than-anticipated victory over Jim Hood in the governor’s race shows how difficult it is for a Democrat, even a moderate one with a decent amount of money behind him, to win.
Even more telling is how poorly the Democrats did in the other six statewide contests in which they fielded a challenger. Across the board, give or take a percentage point, the Republican candidate won in a rout, garnering some 60% of the vote to 40% for the Democratic opponent.
It didn’t matter if the contest was high-profile or low, or whether the Democrat had some money to spend or none; the result was the same.
That tells me that the “R” next to a candidate’s name is probably worth about 55% of the statewide vote right off the bat, roughly mirroring Mississippi’s racial breakdown.
Although there is some racial crossover between the parties — more so for the Democrats than for the Republicans — it’s not much. Whites are voting almost solely for the GOP candidates, and blacks for the Democratic ones.
That’s nothing new for black voters, but it’s been an evolving pattern for white voters in a state that, because of its bitterness toward the party of Abraham Lincoln over losing the Civil War, had no Republican Party to speak of for nearly a century.
There are still in county elections some vestiges of this Democratic fealty among whites, but it’s one based almost solely on tradition rather than political ideology. Carroll County is a perfect example. There, in county elections, the overwhelming majority of candidates still run as Democrats, regardless of race. This year, there were 33 candidates entered in contested races: 27 Democrats, five independents and just one Republican. Yet, in the general election, the GOP identification was so strong — 60 percent voted for Tate Reeves — that the one little-known Republican running for county supervisor gave the favored Democratic nominee a scare.
The problem for Democrats in Mississippi — besides racial politics and a distinct inability to keep pace with fundraising — is that the national Democratic Party is a leftward albatross they can’t shed, no matter how much they try to distance themselves from it.
Hood had no national Democratic figures come to this state and campaign on his behalf. He did not endorse any of his fellow Democrats running in down-ballot races. His pro-gun, pro-capital punishment, pro-life positions and actions as attorney general would nationally be more in sync with the Republican Party than the Democratic one.
It didn’t matter.
Reeves invested a lot of his campaign spending on labeling Hood as a “Nancy Pelosi Democrat.” Reeves drew in Republican heavy hitters, including President Trump, to further propagate that lie in the final days before the voting. The tag apparently stuck enough.
Nothing seems to shake the lock hold of Republicans on Mississippi. It doesn’t matter when there’s a Democrat in the White House; it doesn’t matter when the economy is tanking; it doesn’t matter when roads are crumbling and hospitals are closing. The Democrats keep losing ground, with the GOP about to control all eight statewide offices, to go along with holding supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, both U.S. Senate seats and three of four U.S. House seats.
It is remarkable how fast and how complete the transformation has been. In the course of a generation, Mississippi has gone from a dominant statewide Democratic Party to a solely regional one.
Democrats will continue to win the majority of local contests where the black populations are the largest, such as in the Delta, Southwest Mississippi and metropolitan Jackson. They will hold the House seat long occupied by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson into perpetuity. But after that, it’s hard to envision them being competitive in politics anywhere else.
What will change that?
An influx of younger people and minorities, who are more likely to vote Democratic.
The demographic trends, though, are not leaning that way in Mississippi. If anything, they may be going in the opposite direction, with reports that the state is losing a lot of its younger, college-educated population to other, more urbanized states.
Nationally, the political pendulum swings every eight years or so between the parties. It helps keep them honest. In Mississippi, the pendulum may not be permanently stuck to the right, but it’s lodged in there mighty tightly.
Tim Kalich is editor and publisher of The Greenwood Commonwealth.