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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.

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About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi.

Comments

  1. DL says:

    Maybe we won’t have the horror of a liberal like McCain doing the dirty stuff to the country after all. The real liberals are so much better at pandering.

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  2. Bithead says:

    Don’t take too much from this one, Chris.
    My read is that a goodly chunk of Republicans moved away after Katrina.

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  3. Pug says:

    My read is that a goodly chunk of Republicans moved away after Katrina.

    I guess they didn’t move to Dennis Hastert’s old district.

    Hurricane Katrina? This district is in the far norhern part of Mississippi, including the suburbs of Memphis. This is hundreds of miles from where Katrina made landfall.

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  4. Bithead says:

    I guess they didn’t move to Dennis Hastert’s old district.

    Prolly not.
    Remember, though, Pug, that Hastert is a quite liberal republican, else he’d never ahve been elected there in the first place. No shock that anyone to his right… quite a wide swath… wouldn’t do well in that district, even in the best of times. Be careful about taking too much from that particular district.

    This is hundreds of miles from where Katrina made landfall.

    So?

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  5. Anderson says:

    So?

    Don’t confuse Bithead with the facts.

    But really, that’s the single most ignorant thing I will read all month, I’m sure. People might have moved *to* the area since Katrina, but no one has left it because of Katrina, which was merely a bad storm in those parts.

    I don’t know what the election presages for November, but the Dem candidate for Senate, Musgrove, has won statewide races before, whereas Wicker has not. That plus heavy Obama-friendly turnout may keep Childers in. Heck, as TPM notes, with 54% it wasn’t even a terribly close election.

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  6. Bithead says:

    Don’t confuse Bithead with the facts.

    Like, for example, you’re not going to try and tell me the place was undamaged by the storm, right? You’re not going to tell me that the area was unaffected by the economic mess in what amounts to the regional capital? Please.

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  7. Anderson says:

    Like, for example, you’re not going to try and tell me the place was undamaged by the storm, right?

    Pretty much, yeah. For bureaucratic/pork purposes, all of Mississippi was declared a “disaster area,” but a slightly more realistic view can be had by looking at the counties in the “GO Zone.” Even that was a stretch, but the number of Republicans in the Columbus and Meridian areas made it difficult to exclude them — good work, Gov. Barbour!

    You’re not going to tell me that the area was unaffected by the economic mess in what amounts to the regional capital? Please.

    The “regional capital” of northern Mississippi would be either Memphis or Birmingham.

    Again, the idea that any nontrivial number of people “moved away” from the 1st district b/c of Katrina is simply laughable.

    Really, if you’ll concede error on trivial points about which you know nothing, then you’ll seem much more persuasive. Try it sometime.

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  8. Having formerly lived in Oxford, I can say pretty confidently that the only impacts on the 1st District were high winds and thunderstorms that are fairly typical (i.e. 1-2 times/year) late-summer weather for the area; maybe a few roof tiles were blown off and a dead tree or six fell over, but beyond that not much happened. And certainly nothing that would have led to Republican outmigration after Wicker got handily reelected in November 2006 (16 months after Katrina)!

    There was some significant atypical-weather related destruction in Jackson and Meridian, but that’s 100+ miles south of the bulk of the district.

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