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MS-01 Again

Stuart Rothenberg re-examines some assumptions and looks at MS-01 again:

Most of the state legislators in the district outside the Memphis suburbs are Democrats, and statewide Democratic candidates, including Attorney General Jim Hood (D) in 2007 and Secretary of State Eric Clark (D) in 2003, have carried the district.

The Republican Congressional nominee should have an edge in this district not because it is such a red district but because Republican candidates normally draw at least a quarter of the white Democratic vote — conservative Democrats who have become accustomed to voting for Republican candidates in federal races.

Hold on, you may be thinking. Isn’t Davis’ inability to hold conservative Democrats a strong indication that President Bush and the damage to the Republican brand are responsible for Childers’ win? Maybe, but that’s far from certain.

Polling in the district showed Bush’s “favorables” well above 50 percent, and Democratic pollster Anzalone minced no words when he told me, Louisiana’s 6th and Mississippi’s 1st “are not referenda on Bush and Republicans in Congress.”

So what we really have in MS-01 is a case of a conservative Democrat winning the votes of conservative Democrats who often vote Republican at the federal level.  Commentary on the Mississippi special election has tended to treat this district as if it were deepest Provo, which has led most observers to exaggerate the national significance of the result because the competitiveness of the Democratic Party at the state and local level was neglected.  Of course, Childers comes out of county government, and perhaps was able to translate the local Democratic appeal into a pick-up in the House.  What Childers and Cazayoux seem to represent is the success of the new Democratic flexibility in recruiting more conservative Democratic candidates who are well-suited to their districts, and the electoral strength of a combined socially conservative, economically populist, antiwar message.  We could call it the gradual “Shulerisation” of the Congressional Democrats.  Observers are so quick to look for signs of Republican collapse that I think we overlook evidence that shows the Democrats simply beating the Republicans at their own game. 

This is not to let Greg Davis,, the NRCC and the national party off the hook for the dreadful, unimaginative campaign they ran, or to suggest that the Republicans are not going to be badly bloodied in House and Senate races this year.  They are.  But this does put things in some perspective, and it confirms my earlier skepticism that the MS-01 outcome was not as nationally meaningful as many seem to think it is.  However, the media will run with the story and this story will contribute to the narrative of Republican collapse.  The overall narrative has more of a basis than the story about MS-01 we have been hearing, but anything that can be made to fit that narrative does have an ultimayely negative impact on the fundraising and morale of the national party.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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