Democrats evaluating Mississippi election losses
Some Mississippi Democrats are second-guessing the party’s strategies after Republicans swept all eight statewide offices in this year’s general election.
The two Democrats at the top of the ticket were Attorney General Jim Hood, who lost the governor’s race to Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, and state Rep. Jay Hughes, who lost the lieutenant governor’s race to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Republican Lynn Fitch, the current state treasurer, captured the final statewide office for the GOP by winning the attorney general’s race. She defeated Democrat Jennifer Riley Collins, a military veteran and former director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.
Hood and Hughes both embraced some progressive positions, advocating Medicaid expansion and higher spending on public education. But they also both expressed conservative positions, saying they oppose abortion.
Hood and Hughes both fit the description of what some Democrats have touted for years as a winning protype for a statewide candidate: They’re white men with previous experience in public office, and they are not easily pinned down on the left of the political spectrum.
Some Democrats, though, say the party needs to rethink its strategy and actively recruit and promote a slate of top-of-ticket candidates who are more racially diverse and more likely to campaign as unabashed progressives or liberals.
D’Andra Orey, a political science professor at Jackson State University, said he wonders if Democratic candidates should “redirect their focus” to pay more attention to the party’s most loyal voters — African Americans, especially African American women.
Hood’s TV ads showed him with his pickup truck, hunting dog and rifle.
“When you do that, you alienate your base,” Orey said.
Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence trekked to Mississippi in the closing days of the campaign to promote Reeves and other Republicans. During a Trump rally in Tupelo, Reeves drew cheers from spectators when he said of Hood: “He and the national liberals are not only disrespecting our president; they are disrespecting us.”
For some voters, Reeves’ tactic of framing the state election in a national context was effective.
Brandon resident Tonya Thompson, 58, said she voted for Reeves, even though she said of Hood: “He’s done a lot of good for the state.” Ultimately, Thompson said she went with Reeves because “I just think keeping Republicans strong is going to help us.”
Patricia Murrain of Jackson, a retired Jackson State University professor, said she voted for Hood. She described him as “a pretty honest politician” and said he has worked hard for the state.
“We definitely need health care in the state of Mississippi, in that we’re turning away money from the federal government,” Murrain said. “Jim Hood is trying to get the health care we need for Mississippi.”
Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Bobby Moak said that in the next few weeks, Democrats “will have an introspective look at ourselves and let’s see what we did wrong here and what we can do better.”
Asked about critics saying the party needs a more diversity at the top of the ticket, Moak pointed out that Democrats’ statewide nominees this year were two African American women, two African American men and two white men. He said the party has voters who are liberal, moderate and conservative.
Moak is a former state lawmaker who was elected to a four-year term as party chairman in 2016. He told The Associated Press on Thursday that the state party has improved its financial condition in the past couple of years, but raising money can be difficult without a Democrat as governor.
Moak said Democrats are strengthening their local organizations around the state, but he acknowledged that they’re trying to play catch-up with Republicans.
“Success has many fathers,” Moak said. “But when you lose, nobody likes to take the blame.”
Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter at EWagsterPettus.