The Southern state where Black voters are gaining in numbers, but not power

After breaking up for the past decade, political alliances have settled along racial lines due to white Democratic defections. According to Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, about 90 percent of whites in the state vote Republicans, a higher percentage of conservative white voters than any other state.

“We’re seeing our politics are no longer red and blue,” said Jared Turner, a political strategist who worked on Democrat Mike Espy’s failed Senate campaign in Mississippi last year. “It’s black and white.”

Mississippi has a growing non-white population in common with Georgia. The proportion of non-white residents of Mississippi is expected to reach 46 percent by 2030, according to the US government State data center in Mississippi. However, demographics are often insufficient for the Democrats to turn southern states into the president’s battlegrounds.

For starters, Mississippi lacks key features that brought Georgia and a handful of other southern states into play: busy metropolitan areas with an influx of highly skilled, liberal professionals and a booming economy with a number of high-paying jobs. As states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas become more competitive, it takes a unique combination of factors to turn a state blue. And as the results of the Florida presidential election showed Political loyalties can shift between color communitiesSo there are no guarantees for Democrats even if demographics appear to be moving in their favor.

Problems in rural areas

In Mississippi and many other states, the major challenge facing Democrats is the near-blanket rejection of the party by country voters.

The party is still swaying from voting losses in Congress and State House races, even when Joe Biden won the presidency. Democrats spent millions of dollars changing seats in deep red states without showing anything in return.

To achieve statewide Democratic victories in the near future, two things must happen in Mississippi: more white voters must pass, and there must be explosive participation from black voters who are increasingly disaffected with Democrats.

“We are not a one-party state, but it is not easy for Democrats to win nationwide or in large parts of the state,” said former Mississippi Republican governor Haley Barbour. “Our state is much more difficult for Democrats than Georgia.”

White Mississippians have fled the Democratic Party since the State House and Senate switched to Republican majorities in 2011. The trend has accelerated during the Trump administration. Only five of the 44 Democrats in the State House who elect members in odd years are white. Two white lawmakers switched their loyalty to the party from democratic to independent last year They looked out for their temperate districts, both are mostly black.

Only two of the 16 Senate Democrats are now two whites.

Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi’s junior senator, was a Senator from Democratic State until she ran for Republican commissioner for agriculture about a decade ago.

The The toughest problem in Mississippi is the race, ”said Tyree Irving, who last year was elected the first black Democratic Party leader in Mississippi in a quarter of a century. “When I was describing the relationship between White Democrats and Black Democrats over the last few years, race is a big factor in this situation.”

The previous six Democratic Party leaders were noisy Mississippi today, a local not-for-profit news organization. Many in the party, like Rep. Robert L. Johnson III, believe the party’s previous appeals to moderate white voters have failed. Irving’s victory with two-thirds of the Democratic Executive Committee was implicit recognition of the need for a new approach.

In 2019, for example, then-attorney general, Democrat Jim Hood, ran for governor in a campaign that demonstrated his conservative credentials: his pro-gun stance against abortion. He lost almost 6 points to Republican Tate Reeves.

Hood and Espy’s losses revealed an existential one Challenge in Mississippi, said Brannon Miller, a Democratic strategist in the state. If the party tries to win over white voters, it will, by and large, lose black voters. If a candidate seeks black votes, he loses whites.

“It’s like hitting a mole,” Miller said.

“I’m not into moral victories. We’re lost. ‘

Unlike Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, Mississippi has not experienced explosive population growth that has changed the political balance of power. There is no oversupply of big cities and suburbs or big companies. The crime reform almost killed the Democratic Party’s main donor base. And widespread poverty has made fundraising in small dollars a challenge as nongovernmental donors rarely put money into what they see as long-term offerings.

Even if nongovernmental donors open their wallets, Democrats are still losing nationwide.

Espy raised $ 12 million for his Senate campaign, compared to $ 3.3 million from Hyde-Smith Federal election dates. Polls showed that he was in close proximity to the incumbent Republican.

But when Espy got to a church in Ridgeland to vote at 7am on November 3rd and saw a line of mostly white, exposed voters in the parking lot, he knew he was going to lose.

Espy outperformed Biden, who lost Mississippi 16.5 percentage points and found their way into three predominantly white suburban boroughs. He won more votes than Barack Obama in the state in 2012. Even so, he lost against Hyde-Smith by 10 percentage points.

“I’m not into moral victories,” said Espy. “We lost.”

Espy said much of the money he raised came in the months leading up to the election, which wasn’t enough time to build the infrastructure a Democrat needs to win the state. However, Republicans were motivated early on to stand up for Donald Trump.

“Trump has just given orders that his base be revealed. We saw more voters in Mississippi who were against the Democratic Party brand, ”Espy said in his first interview since the election.

To make his point clear, he outlined three progressive electoral initiatives – one to legalize medical marijuana, one to approve a draft state flag without the Confederate Battle flag, and one to remove a hurdle for people running for state office. All three initiatives passed on the same day he lost.

“If you’d told me all three passed without any problems and I lost 130,000 votes, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Espy, who in 1987 became the first Mississippi African-American to serve in Congressional Reconstruction.

“As an emblem of the Democratic brand, I was not acceptable in this environment.”

“Democrats have allowed themselves to become an urban party”

Mississippi is one of the few states in the south to have lost its population in the past two years due to lack of jobs Mississippi Center for Public Policy. Georgia and Texas, on the other hand, are two of the fastest growing states in the country.

Immigration to Mississippi has grown, but not enough to materially change the political landscape of the state. like in Georgia. Around 2.4 percent of the Mississippi population were born in another country, according to the United States Institute for Migration Policy.

One political outlier is DeSoto County, located in the northwest corner of the state, that has become a sleeping community for people working across the border in relatively liberal Memphis, Tennessee. In 2019, Democratic MP Hester Jackson McCray beat her Republican opponent by 14 votes, becoming the first black person to represent a majority in white county. DeSoto still voted for Trump this November but finished 80thth Of 3,006 counties that moved toward Democrats, Bonier said.

Democratic strategist James Carville said the party’s challenges in Mississippi point to broader problems within the party. Democrats do not reach the rural population, white or black.

“The problem is that the Democrats have allowed themselves to become an urban party,” he said. “In a state with not many urban centers, that’s difficult. Until we have a broader appeal, we will descend into an urban party. “

“It’s not about anyone’s skin color.”

State Democracy leader Irving said he believes Mississippi has an appetite for progressive ideas, pointing to the success of the electoral initiatives and the strength of Espy compared to Biden.

Almost 20 percent of Mississippians live in poverty, the highest in the country for the US census. The health and education outcomes were dire. The pandemic has left a trail of devastation across the state: More than 4,000 people have died and hundreds of thousands have applied for unemployment benefits since March.

Irving said the party must move to the left and lean into its black support base instead of taking their votes for granted. Its aim is not to alienate white voters, but rather to adopt an agenda that appeals to a wider group of black voters in the state.

“It is an insult to think or suggest that Black Democrats should do more to elect white Democrats to nationwide office without the white candidate setting a political agenda that takes black Democrats’ needs and concerns into account,” Irving said in a follow-up email.

He has focused on getting black voters – and some younger white voters – talking on topics like reducing the student loan burden and building a bank of local black lawmakers ready to run nationwide. But he said the party must also counter a narrative that Democrats want to take money from whites to give to blacks, or that blacks receive disproportionate benefits in the state.

“They have southern politicians, and white Democrats have been guilty for the past few years as well. They have given white Mississippians a racist diet – three meals a day – to keep poor and average middle-income Mississippians segregated on a racist basis,” said Irving.

He also has to rebuild a local party infrastructure. Espy’s campaign left voter data and a volunteer network that Irving aims to build over the years to come.

A hollowed out contracting state

Starting on the ground, rather than focusing on high-profile nationwide races, will be key to breaking Republican dominance in Mississippi, said Rep. Bennie Thompson, the only Mississippi Democrat in Congress and the longest-serving elected African American in the Country.

Thompson said the state party had been eroded over the years. Even the party center was run down until a few years ago. The party must rebuild brick by brick, a task that requires investment and attention from the National Democrats.

Irving “understands that if you want to win nationally or nationally, you need to build this infrastructure locally,” Thompson said.

“I’m a realist,” he said. “It’s not a two or three round fight. It could be a two or three year fight, but we fight.”

One of Irving’s first goals is to oust Greenwood’s popular incumbent Mayor Carolyn McAdams in June. More than 73 percent of the population of Greenwood, Irving’s hometown and the place where Emmitt Till died, is black. McAdams is white. McAdams was first elected in 2009. against incumbent Sheriel Perkins, Greenwood’s first black mayor. She has been repeatedly re-elected as an Independent.

“I hope people see that I’m fair,” McAdams said. “It’s not about the color of anyone’s skin.”

However, local Democratic youth activist Robert Wilson Jr. said he thinks she has been in office for too long. Like Irving, he wants to replace her with a progressive democrat.

“She’s a great person, but sometimes just being a great person isn’t enough,” said Wilson. “She has lost touch with things that are going on in actual communities.”

Wilson said that after Irving was first elected as chairman of the state party, Irving emailed him inviting him to an online meeting. It was the first time that the State party visited him.

“The previous chairman, I would reach out to him and nothing would ever come of it,” said Wilson. Now he’s “a little optimistic” that the State Democratic Party is finally paying attention to younger voters and local elections.

Irving knows it’s an uphill battle in the deeply conservative state. But he wants to turn over at least one nationwide office in 2023.

“I know what that may sound like, given the history of Mississippi – that a black man in Mississippi thinks he can find a way towards a blue state,” said Irving. “But I don’t smoke anything funny.”

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