Deep South Blues for the GOP
The Democrats have picked up their second Deep South congressional seat in as many weeks, with Travis Childers defeating Republican candidate Greg Davis by a substantial margin in the special election contest to replace Roger Wicker, now serving as the interim junior senator from Mississippi, in the House of Representatives:
The seat had been in Republican hands since 1995, and the district, largely rural and stretching across the northern top of Mississippi, had been considered one of the safest in the country for President Bush’s party, as he won here with 62 percent of the vote in 2004. …
Merle Black, a Southern politics expert at Emory University, called a Democratic victory potentially “a huge upset, and an indication of a terrible year ahead for the Republicans.” He added, “In theory, this should be an easy win for them.”
Mimicking a strategy that proved successful in 2006, Democrats ran staunch conservatives in both this and the Louisiana race, forcing their Republican opponents to attack national party figures as surrogates.
While Childers’ victory is somewhat surprising, despite Mississippi’s reputation as a “deep red” state it has never returned a Republican majority to the House since Reconstruction–the closest the GOP has come to any form of dominance is parity from 2003 (after the 2000 census led to a court-ordered redistricting plan that left Democratic incumbent Ronnie Shows as the odd man out when the musical chairs stopped) through Wicker’s resignation in late 2007, holding two seats against the Democrats’ control of the majority-black 2nd District (currently held by Bennie Thompson) and the south Mississippi 4th District held by yellow dog Democrat Gene Taylor.
I remain skeptical that Childers will survive in the strongly Republican 1st District past November, when he will face reelection on a ballot headed by John McCain and longtime incumbent Wicker after serving six months in a Democrat-controlled House, but stranger things have happened. And, as Ole Miss professor Marvin King observes the GOP’s “go-to” strategy of associating Childers and similarly conservative Democratic candidates with the national party (in particular, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama and speaker Nancy Pelosi) isn’t working, as NRCC chairman Tom Cole tacitly acknowledged Tuesday evening.