OPINION: Southern dislike of Obama an obstacle for state Dems

JACKSON – Many Mississippi Democrats saw the election of Barack Obama and the success of their party during the 2008 national elections as a signal that momentum in the state was on their side.
An Obama victory gave new hope for Democrats in the 2011 statewide elections.
Some recent nationwide polling might throw a bucketful of political icewater on their optimism.
One recent nationwide poll gave the Democratic president a favorability rating of 53-39. This was consistent with most other national polls. But in the South, Obama was viewed as favorable by 25 percent of those polls and unfavorable by 75 percent. The same poll asked respondents if they would rather see more Democrats or Republicans elected to Congress. Democrats won handily in every area of the country with the exception of the South, where Republicans won by 26 percent.
An earlier poll indicated that a majority of Southerners either did not think Obama was born in the United States or were not sure. In the rest of the nation, the percentage who believed Obama was born in the U.S. and thus eligible to be president was well above 70 percent.
When it is factored in that African-Americans in the South generally have a favorable opinion of Obama and of the Democratic Party, it is evident that white Southerners as a whole are not crazy about the president or about the national Democratic Party.
Is the South out of touch – out of the often-talked about, but difficult to find political mainstream? Or is the South just more pragmatic and clearer-thinking than the rest of the country? Your humble scribe for one agrees that in this country the majority rules, but that doesn’t always mean the majority is right.
But like so many things in politics – and in life – there is no easy, clear-cut answer to who is wrong or right – the South or the rest of the country.
That is just a snapshot of the lay of the land.
To quote someone else who quoted someone else who quotes someone else – “it is what it is.”
But the question is, should the Obama victory and the current success of the Democrats in electing officeholders on the national level give Mississippi Democrats reason for optimism?
Back in 2008 when Obama was elected, it did. But since then, the anger against Obama in particular and Democrats in general has greatly intensified – especially in the South.
How will that anger play out in 2011 when Mississippians go to the polls to elect everything from governor to coroner?
Currently, Mississippi has only one statewide elected Democrat. Will the state Republican Party try to connect the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, for secretary of state, for a Mississippi U.S. House seat to a president who is unpopular with a vast majority of white Mississippians?
How will it play out next November when the national Republican Party goes all out to try to defeat first-term Democratic U.S. House member Travis Childers of Booneville?
In 2008, the Republican Party went all-out to try to connect Childers with Obama. It didn’t work.
But has the anger been ratcheted up enough to make a difference this time – in 2010 with Childers and 2011 with all statewide races?
While Mississippi Republicans are dominant in statewide races, they often have expressed frustration that Democrats do as well as they do in legislative races. Democrats control the state House and have a numerical, though ineffective, majority in the Senate.
In upcoming elections, state Democrats will be campaigning against what seems to be a rising tide of anger against their national party brethren. Perhaps they can overcome that anger. History indicates that many will.
But that earlier optimism might have been misplaced or at least short-lived.
Contact Journal Capitol Bureau chief Bobby Harrison at bobby.harrison@djournal.com or (601) 353-3119.

Bobby Harrison

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