Analysis: Both parties smell state wins based on qualifiers

JACKSON – Both sides claimed victory in the race to find the most electable legislative candidates before Wednesday’s qualifying deadline.
Which side actually won will not be known until the Nov. 8 general election.
Democrats are trying to maintain their 68-54 advantage in the state House. Republicans are attempting to do the same in the Senate where they hold a 27-24 edge with one vacancy due to the death last month of Democrat Jack Gordon of Okolona.
In the House, Republicans picked up one seat Wednesday when Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus, who barely lost a race for speaker in 2008 to Billy McCoy, qualified to seek re-election as a Republican.
Smith, who has been elected five times as a Democrat, originally qualified to seek re-election this year as an independent, but switched to the Republican Party just before Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Smith is among numerous House members eyeing a bid for House speaker at the start of the 2012 term to replace McCoy, who is not seeking re-election.
House Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, who did not rule out a run for speaker, said it is too early to make any decisions. He said the November elections will determine the legitimate candidates for speaker.
There appear to be possible paths to a House majority for either Republicans or Democrats in November. That might seem obvious, but it wasn’t that long ago that Republicans did not qualify enough candidates to win a majority even if they won all their races.
Arnie Hederman, chair of the state Republican Party, said Republicans “had the most extensive and successful candidate recruitment effort in our party’s history,” leaving them “poised for historic gains this November.”
The Mississippi House has been Democratic since the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction in the 19th century. But other Southern states have seen Republicans gain control in recent years – including the Alabama House this past November.
An analysis of qualifiers indicates there is a path to a majority for the Republicans in the House, but it does not appear to be an easy one.
Democrats are defending 40 seats where there is no Republican opposition. Republicans have 32 seats in a similar situation.
In addition, a conservative estimate would be that there are seven to 10 seats where it is highly likely the Democratic incumbent will beat the Republican opponent. There are probably about five Republican seats in a similar situation.
In other words, Republicans have to win more of what appear to be toss-up seats. Based on recent trends indicating voter dissatisfaction with Democrats by Mississippi voters, there could be fewer toss-up contests and more lean Republican seats than in past elections.
Ellis said he does not believe that.
“I do believe we will hold a majority… based on the numbers of incumbents running unopposed” and on the strength of other Democratic candidates, Ellis said.
Rep. Herb Frierson, R-Poplarville, rumored as a possible candidate for speaker, said, “I think it will be competitive all over the state … It is up to the individual candidates now. How they run. How they come across.”
Over in the Senate, Republicans, who hold a slight majority, appear to have an edge. Republicans will have no Democratic opponent in 18 Senate seats. Democrats are similarly situated in 11 seats.
But as in the House for Republicans, Democrats have a path to a majority but will need to perform exceptionally well in about 10 toss-up seats to obtain that majority.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal