The Republican sweep of statewide offices and the margin of the Reeves victory are troubling for most Democrats in our state. Monday morning quarterbacking is inevitable, and many of the observations have merit. I’d like to offer my perspective gained in more than two decades of work for progressive candidates and causes across the country. Here are a few key points to remember and some specific suggestions about the best way to move forward with the Mississippi Democratic Party.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
We all knew it was an uphill battle.
Mississippi is an R+9 state in federal elections and with President Trump’s approval among whites in our state — 70 percent and climbing amid the impeachment controversy — Tate Reeves used the national Democratic brand to pummel Hood incessantly. Reeves’ mantra of “God, gays, guns, illegal immigrants…” was very effective.
Jim Hood’s media, messaging and work ethic were all very good.
I strongly disagree with any contention that Hood’s TV ads were boring or tone deaf. He spoke to timely issues — Medicaid expansion, infrastructure repair and school funding — that were research tested and had even been adopted by Bill Waller’s GOP challenge effort. Hood campaigned in every corner of the state and made sure social media documented each visit. No campaign is perfect, but this was not an effort where Jim Hood’s team “blew it” with some tactical blunder.
State Democratic parties in red states are all underfunded and understaffed.
Even in Texas, with nearly 10 times our population, the Democratic Party office struggles with the basics. The Electoral College drives the national Democratic Party’s resource allocation. Swing states get the most attention because that’s where presidential elections are won.
Barack Obama changed elections in red states forever accelerating the pace that rural whites moved to the Republican Party. And after the final court decision on Citizens United, we saw an explosion of spending by very polarizing single interest groups and almost no emphasis on a “big tent” political party — D or R. Moreover, during the 12 years since Mr. Obama took center stage, we’ve seen massive populations shifts in Mississippi that drive where Democrats should be looking for votes. In 2007, 16 percent of John Arthur Eaves’ vote came from Metro Jackson and 14 percent came from Northeast Mississippi. This year, 22 percent of Hood’s vote came from the metro area, and just 9 percent came from Northeast Mississippi.
Mississippi is increasingly like the rest of the country in that Democrats’ best chances for growth are in urban centers, suburbs and college towns. Combine these trends with the realities of population shifts across the state and we see a much different electoral map.
Only two counties in the Delta were among the top 20 in vote totals for Jim Hood.
Traditional Republican strongholds like Harrison, DeSoto and Rankin are among the top five sources of Democratic votes.
Suburbs are the best bang for the buck in canvassing and voter turnout efforts — voters live closer together and their polling places are nearer to their residences.
There are more Democratic voters in Pearl than all of Humphreys County.
There are more Democratic voters in Byram than all of Coahoma County.
There are more Democratic voters in Ridgeland than all of Yazoo County.
Democrats don’t have a solid bench for statewide candidates in 2021. We must be creative in where we pick our battles and the most promising initial outcomes are with the limited number of local government races. Special elections in swing districts should become priorities. Democrats need to find a way to win again-no matter how small the race — given this new political landscape.
Winning can be contagious. And sadly, if we continue to ignore the new realities, losing will be too.
Brad Chism, a Northsider, is president of Chism Strategies, a political communications firm in Jackson.