Democratic Debacle

Vickie Slater must feel like a politician without a party. After running hard to win the Democratic primary for governor—making stump speeches in every pocket of Mississippi, and raising and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign—she lost the nomination to a man who didn’t even bother to vote. The party failed her. Its nominee, a truck driver from Jackson, didn’t spend any money on his campaign, which essentially consisted of attending two rallies. He didn’t tell his own mother he was running. He might as well quit now, because he has as much a chance of unseating Phil Bryant as one of Paris Hilton’s Chihuahuas.

Yet Mississippi’s Democratic Party brought this on itself. At the very least, Robert Gray’s victory speaks to the dysfunction of the state’s Democrats. Its leaders ought to be run out of the state on a rail for not doing what they need to do to produce viable candidates in statewide elections. They have allowed Republicans to dictate the terms of debates, as well as the outcomes of statewide elections, since Haley Barbour took office. They have reacted to the demonization of the Democratic platform instead of taking the offensive. The closest thing to an “impact” generated by Democrats in the last decade was sending Thad Cochran to the Senate instead of Chris McDaniel.

A more insidious possibility is that Mississippi’s party leaders, both Democrat and Republican, have allowed the two-party system to become a race-based system within the borders of our state. Shame on them both. New registrants to the Democratic Party are overwhelmingly African-American; conversely, most Republican voters under 40 are white. Unless the Democratic Party of Mississippi can identify a leader who will attract the support of white moderates—while still respecting the 37% of Mississippi voters who are African-American and overwhelmingly vote for Democrats—the party is done for in the state.

That this hasn’t happened begs yet another painful question: do Mississippians believe that African Americans and whites have distinct political agendas? If that’s the case, it would appear that we have regressed, politically and morally, rather than striving to form a more perfect union, since the struggles of the 1960s.

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