Analysis: Democrats hope to stem GOP tide in Miss.

Calls to “take back America” preceded last week’s remodeling of the congressional makeup, and a similar refrain may be heard in Mississippi during the 2011 statewide and legislative races, but from a different political party.

Jamie Franks, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, said part of the Democrats’ strategy to win offices next year will include reminding voters that Republicans have been leading the state for the last eight years. Nearly all the statewide offices, including the governor’s office, are held by Republicans. Attorney General Jim Hood is the lone Democrat.

“We’ve seen they have not been very good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars. The budget is in shambles. Unemployment is in double-digits. Education is not being funded,” Franks said.

His comments came days after the Nov. 2 general election when the GOP swept to power in the U.S. House, taking at least 60 seats from Democrats. Two of Mississippi’s congressmen — U.S. Reps. Gene Taylor in the 4th District and Travis Childers in the 1st District — were among those defeated.

Taylor was defeated by Steven Palazzo, a state representative from Biloxi. Alan Nunnelee, a state senator from Tupelo, defeated Childers.

Nunnelee, like other Republican candidates across the country, regularly talked about pulling the country out of Democrats’ hands. In one of his blogs, Nunnelee said “On Tuesday, we take back America for those commonsense values.”

It remains to be seen whether Democrats in the state can be successful with a similar campaign strategy in Mississippi. Franks acknowledged his party must first find common ground. In recent years, internecine squabbles among Democratic leaders have crept into public view.

“We have people who are conservative and we have people who are liberals. We’ve got to get together on the same page and make sure we’re going to bring the change that’s needed at the ballot box next year,” Franks said.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour will be finishing up his second and final term in office in 2011 so the field is wide open. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is among those preparing to run for the seat. Others lining up include Republican Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis and Democratic candidates Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale lawyer, and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree.

The fundraising focus for the political parties, however, will be the legislative races. Both Franks and Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White say they’ve started raising money for those elections.

But Republicans have also identified the districts they’ll target, and in some cases, have a candidate being groomed. White said the GOP is going after the legislative seats in congressional districts where Taylor and Childers were ousted.

“Democrats who are serving in Republican districts that normally vote with Republicans, those people need to come over to us,” White said. “In areas where the districts lean Republican and are conservative, we’re going to make sure we have a candidate there.”

White shrugs off talk about Republicans being the cause of the state’s financial troubles. He said Barbour’s refusal to tap deeply into the state’s multimillion dollar rainy day fund to shore up some agency budgets was a good policy decision.

“Had Haley Barbour not stood in the gap, the rainy day fund would be empty. We would have already experienced tax increases if Republicans hadn’t stood in the gap,” White said. “Things would be much worse if the Democrats were involved.”

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press

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