Democrats in Mississippi look to Georgia for lessons – but face even greater challenges

Jackson, Miss. – Here at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, what began as a finger-crossing clockwork party for Democratic Senate candidate Mike Espy ended up being the time since the arrival of Jarius Adams. .

Adams spent much of Election Day working with a voter rights organization that combats voter suppression, and was optimistic that Espany would prevail in winning incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Adams is 23. The last time a Democratic President or Senate candidate held the state before birth. On election night, the Republican streak remained unbroken.

In addition to widely supporting President Donald Trump, Mississippi voters re-elected Hyde-Smith by more than 13 percentage points, doubling the margin of her victory against Espy in the 2018 special election.

“Losing him wasn’t even the biggest boomer,” Adams said. “This was the margin he lost.”

On November 20, 2018, Jackson, Miss. Mike Espy and Cindy Hyde-Smith during their televised debate in The.Rogelio V. Solis / ap file

In another corner of the Southeast, the night was over. In Georgia, it was very close to calling the state presidential battle. For nearly three decades, Georgia, along with Mississippi and other deep south states, was a safe bet for Republicans. Now, the state was home to the scorching heat seen by the nation. The drama came to a close on Friday, when NBC News introduced Biden as the clear winner.

While Georgia’s tight race showed Democratic factions throughout the South – which is possible – with an aggressive voter campaign, a multilateral coalition of voters and record participation among young voters – the goal of turning a red state purple in Mississippi is far from reality. Stays away Thirty-eight percent of residents in the state are Black, the highest percentage in the country. Most Black Mississippians vote for Democrats, but the state still has more conservative white voters, and they vote Republican and decide elections.

Party leaders, organizers and political experts say there are a number of unresolved issues – including tense race relations, voter suppression and the dissolution of citizens convicted of certain crimes – that would prevent Mississippi from witnessing nail-biting elections, especially national On level, anytime soon.

There is also the question of whether white voters in Mississippi would support a black candidate for statewide office In the years following Reconstruction, no Black Mississippian has come into such a role. (The 2003 defeat of Gary Anderson, a black candidate for state treasurer, is often cited as an example of the state’s color barrier.)

And then there is another challenge.

For most states, population growth is a slow boil. In Mississippi, it is almost nonexistent. According to census data, from 2010 to 2019, Mississippi’s total population decreased by less than 1 percent. Only four other states grew slower, or lost the overall population. During the same period, Georgia took flight, which increased by about 10 percent and gave more diversity to the state’s voters.

Unlike Georgia, many residents of Mississippi and, after a rapid millennium, leave the state every year, and have few new arrivals to replace them. This means that any realization in state politics will have to persuade the current residents to change their party’s loyalty – but the question is how much base there is among conservative voters, who are abortion, taxes, guns and the attitude of the candidates But holds a high premium. Energy law.

Marvin King, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi, said Democrats are left in a holding pattern, where their “best hope” is for Republicans to move too far in the right direction to make Democrats appeal to liberal voters To have a better chance of doing.

King said of the Republicans, “As long as they are able to hold on to their voters, they are fine. But if they get too extreme, the Democrats get them out one at a time, one at a time. But quite frankly, it’s like a 20-year scenario. “

Time may reduce Republican dominance due to changes in state voting.

“Even in Mississippi, if you look at voters under 40, Democrats have a much better shot at winning,” King said. “If the voters were only people under 40, elections would be … even very close – but that’s a long time to wait. So if you’re a Democrat, you’ll have to persuade . “

‘Brain drain’ challenge

King compared how democratic victories are happening in Atlanta and its suburbs to states like Illinois and Colorado, where high voters in major cities who are more progressive may be enough to turn the state blue.

“The Virginia Democrats went through this,” he said. Virginia was a red state. Now, Northern Virginia is so big, if you can win there you can dominate the state. “

In Mississippi, Republican-leaning rural counties still hold substantial votes even as the state’s most populous democratic stronghold and Jackson is the only city in the state with at least 100,000 residents.

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The state’s “brain drain” could further aggravate Democrats’ crisis. From 2010 to 2016, Mississippi lost the largest share of millennials in the country. Compared to older generations of voters, the group is more likely to back Democratic candidates. Not all those who leave the state diagonally, but some say that many are not just pursuing better economic opportunities. They are also disappointed with the conservative rule of the state.

Katilyn Barton, 28, who grew up in a Jackson suburb, moved to Houston in 2019. She jokingly said that she never switched her domicile while in college at the University of Mississippi, as she was determined to give her deep red counties at least one Democratic vote. .

Barton, who works as an instructor of education at a charter school, is part of the influx of new residents, a blue future for the current alliances of black and brown voters, as well as a near future for Texas Help bring

This year, he cast his vote for Joe Biden at a local high school through early voting. And then he got angry. While election officials in his Texas counties offered drive-through voting and 24-hour polling spots, Mississippi was the only state to offer “no excuse” early voting during the 2020 general election.

“Being able to experience made me furious for all the people who love me,” she said.

What do Mississippi Democrats stand for?

In Mississippi, Democratic organizers are gathering once again. Some, like Adams, are thinking of lessons to stay away from Georgia, where diversity hands over a serious grassroots game led by Stacy Ebbers, the former Democratic governorship candidate and other grassroots organizations to make the state competitive Worked with

But they face a challenge that transcends demographics and voter turnout – what, exactly, Democrats stand for in Mississippi.

“The fundamental problem for Democrats is not population growth,” said Henry Barbour, a Republican strategist and national committee for the party. “Their fundamental problem is where they are on the issues.”

In Barbour’s view, Democrats in Mississippi should remodel policies supported by the more progressive wings of the national party, so that they can betray the state’s more conservative voters.

Democrats have already tried this without much success. A “Day in the Life” advertisement for the party’s 2019 candidate for governor, Jim Hood, featured his family farm and pickup truck. In a 31-second spot, he described “reloaded ammunition” as a typical task of the day. As attorney general, Hood not only defended a state law preventing abortions at 15 weeks, he told an editorial board that he signed a later law in the state, about six if he was governor. This process was banned for weeks. But he still lost the race against the lieutenant. Tate Reeves, a Republican government based on 5 percentage points.

Ridgeland, Miss., On Election Day. They stand in the queue to cast ballots.Rogelio V. Solis / ap file

Espy made a different kind of deal. While he made headlines with former President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Thad Cochran, a Republican, and promised to be “an independent voice in the Senate”, he did not shy away from the national party. During the campaign campaign, he examined video messages from former presidents Barack Obama and Abrams.

Following the message of the Democratic Party during the last few election cycles, some party members are eager to create a folder identity in the state. The party’s young activists, in particular, are concerned that in pursuing white moderates, Democrats have neglected black voters who are the party’s most loyal members.

“The Republicans have done the best job in defining us for us,” said Teresa Jones, president of the Democratic Party’s executive committee and chair of the party’s Young Democrats committee.

Jones reported that three ballots were approved this year – choosing a design for a new state flag, approving medical marijuana and ending a Jim Crow-era rule aimed at black citizens from the state’s top elected positions Have to – Mississippi voters endorsed their positions. By Democrats.

He said the broad swear of support “provides an opening to withdraw the narrative and present itself.” “We believe in rural development. We believe in small businesses. “

Party ahead

Three months ago, State Irving Party president Tri Irving plans to visit each of the state’s 82 counties over the next few months and meet with local Democratic leaders and county committees to hear about the most important policies for their communities is.

One of the challenges for the party, he said, is to try to connect with Mississippi who voted for the new flag design, but not the Democratic candidates.

“We understood what happened,” he said. “Why?”

One of the suspects making partisan rhetoric on the issues is a criminal who prevents some people in the state from giving the party a chance. He said black and white Mississippians have said they have benefited from federal support received by the state. And yet, there is a belief that aid only benefits black residents. The rhetoric around social safety net programs, he said, “feeds into racial narratives that keep black and white people apart.”

Irving is confident that an improvement in the party’s messaging will make a difference.

“Especially when you break it down in places where people are like, ‘Well, how much federal aid is coming here in this county that you’re all benefiting from,’ I think you start to change the mindset , The way people think about it. Now, “he said.” I know it won’t happen overnight. I’m not naive, understand. If you don’t get the facts out there, you never change the mindset. Will find. “

There are more disappointments he has to deal with. In the past, Democratic candidates had complained about disarray, Republicans ran unopposed for several seats in the state Legislature, and the fundraising, with a few exceptions, was disappointing. He wants to focus on supporting young voters, whether they are formally active in the party or not.

Meanwhile, organizers like Adams are not waiting for the influx of arrivals leaning to the left, or disillusioned to cross the aisle. In recent years, Republican governors in the state have created a roster of rising stars by appointing rising statewide offices. Although Democrats do not have a governor’s mansion, Adams said there are young Democrats in the state who now need to tap for local races to gain experience and build trust with voters for the future.

“We can’t stay on the sidelines,” he said. “We just have to keep fighting.”

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