By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The chairman of the state Democratic Party told his Republican counterpart Monday to be prepared for civil but fierce battles for the hearts and minds of Mississippi voters.
While acknowledging his state Democratic Party has been out-performed by the Republican Party in recent years, Chairman Rickey Cole said, “We have lost some. We have given some away. … But the free ride is just about over.”
Cole was directing his comments to Joe Nosef, state GOP chairman. The two spoke Monday at the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/Capitol press corps luncheon.
Both made their arguments in civil and, at times, humorous tones. Cole said Democrats would enter the political fray as happy warriors, “knowing most of the time we are right and they are wrong, but we love them anyway.”
Nosef highlighted the many Republican successes of recent years, holding seven of eight statewide posts and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since the 1800s. He said in recent years 50 local officeholders have switched from Democrat to Republican.
Now, “the obvious thing we have to do is govern,” he said, citing what he described as successes during the 2012 legislative session, such as getting a budget passed on time.
Nosef said the biggest issue facing the party is unity. Factions have differed on issues such as immigration and charter schools. “These are difficult, hard issues,” he said.
Cole admitted the Democrats could not match Republican fundraising, though he said that effort would be stepped up. He said Democrats plan to have a presence in all of the state’s 1,876 precincts
“We are going to organize the Democratic Party,” Cole said.
Cole said he still believes Mississippi can be “a swing state” where Democratic presidential contenders have a chance if they organize, and that Attorney General Jim Hood’s strength proves Democrats can win in Mississippi.
Cole said the Party must get more racially diverse in its leadership in certain areas of the state. On the flip side, Nosef said he is working to involve more minorities in the GOP.
Nosef, who was former Gov. Haley Barbour’s lead counsel and ran his re-election effort in 2007, gave Barbour much of the credit for leading the recent Republican surge.
So did Cole.
“Haley Barbour came home and brought Washington politics to Mississippi that people have never seen,” Cole said. He said Democrats were not prepared for Barbour’s organizational skills.