Down in the Weeds: Alabama and Mississippi

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Nothing dominates Alabama politics more than the US Senate race and the Republican Party salivating at the chance to unseat Democrat Doug Jones.  An interesting field of candidates has emerged including Congressman Bradley Byrne, former Auburn coach Tom Tuberville, former Senator and AG Jeff Sessions, and the man who lost to Jones, Roy Moore.

Thad Kousser, a political scientist who has studied the effect of endorsements on electoral outcomes, had this to say:

The Donald Trump brand is the strongest brand in American politics right now.  In Republican politics, it’s an almost entirely positive brand. Either winning his endorsement or aligning with his politics or echoing his tone and looking like a Donald Trump type of candidate, has to be very appealing in a state like Alabama which so strongly backed the president in 2016.

In general elections, Trump’s record is a mixed bag.  In Senate races, Trump is 11-10 when it comes to support of candidates.  According to NPR, Trump had a 58% success rate in 2018.  When it comes to primary elections, Trump had a stellar 27-1 record in 2018.  But Alabama presents a whole other scenario.  In the 2017 special election to replace Jeff Sessions, Trump is 0-2 having first endorsed Luther Strange in the primary and then Roy Moore in the general election.  He likely does not want to go 0-3 with an endorsement in 2020.

Kousser has noted that even in blue California, many candidates are hitching themselves to Trump.  As for Alabama, a recent survey of likely voters indicated the following among the candidates:

  • Bradley Byrne- 41% favorable and 11.1% unfavorable;
  • Tommy Tuberville- 55.6% favorable and 16.5% unfavorable;
  • secretary of state John Merrill- 31.6% favorable and 10.1% favorable, and;
  • Roy Moore- 27.7% favorable and 65.4% unfavorable.

With numbers like that, it is doubtful Trump will endorse Moore.  In fact, his unfavorable numbers are probably attributable to the fact that Trump tweeted he cannot win the general election.  Still, all the candidates are undeterred despite no endorsement forthcoming from Trump.  The primary is relatively early on the calendar- March 3, 2020- and any endorsement would likely upend the race.  Donald Trump, Jr. has openly stated that it is up to the voters of Alabama to make the ultimate decision.

Recently, Richard Shelby has apparently endorsed Jeff Sessions.  This presents a conundrum for Trump should Sessions emerge the winner on March 3rd.  The relationship between the two soured in 2017 over the Russian collusion hoax and Sessions’ recusal.  Moore is certainly seen by Trump as a liability and has no chances of unseating Jones.  Tuberville is touting his outsider status although he has criticized Trump’s handling of veterans affairs.  And some 2016 statements by Bryne that Trump was “unfit” to be president are coming back to haunt him on the campaign trail.  The others in the crowded field- Stanley Adair and Arnold Mooney- are pouncing on this calling Byrne a “born again Trumper.”

Terry Latham is the Alabama GOP party chief and she has kept the attack up on Doug Jones saying his stances are at odds with Alabama voters.  She has brushed off any questions about a primary endorsement from Trump and seems dedicated to the attack on Jones citing his stance on immigration, his refusal to vote for Brett Kavanaugh, and his refusal to take a stand on impeachment.

As for Jones himself, he claims he is not worried about his eventual opponent.  Democrats are counting on a divisive primary and taking on a wounded Republican come November.

And it is not as if the Democrats do not have their own problems in the state.  They are in the minority in both state houses, have only one member of the US House and Jones is considered the most vulnerable Democrat in the Senate come 2020.  An insurgent wing of the Democrat Party in Alabama won a state supreme court decision lifting an injunction against a meeting to elect new leaders.  The current chair, Nancy Worley, was against the meeting.  They had previously ratified two different sets of bylaws.

DNC president Thomas Perez had to intervene claiming the meeting complied with the bylaws of the DNC.  Worley complained that state supreme court lifted the injunction because they are all Republicans and wanted to foment rancor among the Democrats.  The DNC, through Perez, had mandated that the Alabama party adopt new bylaws to increase diversity on the executive committee.  The new bylaws set up diversity caucuses among Hispanics, gays, young people, and blacks to make nominations to the committee.  Blacks under the age of 35 make up about one-third of all Alabama Democrats but are effectively shut out under the old bylaws from any leadership positions.

In Mississippi, on this past Election Day, the GOP won the gubernatorial race and made other statewide gains.  We did not hear too much about Mississippi in the mainstream media because…well, it was a good night for the GOP.  Tate Reeves defeated Democrat Jim Hood.

And most of the analysis of Mississippi is good news for the GOP and not-so-good news for a Democrat Party in disarray in the state.  Reeves has chosen Mississippi political insider Brad White to run his transition team.  He is stepping down as chief of staff for Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and was chairman of the state GOP from 2008-2011.  Doug Davis, another political insider and former state senator from DeSoto county will assume White’s position with Hyde-Smith.

At the state legislative level, Republicans picked up three seats in the state senate and maintained their super-majority status in the house.  Republicans picked up two seats in the northeast part of the state that were held by conservative-leaning Democrats.  In the southwest part of the state, Melanie Sojourner won back her seat against the Democrat incumbent.  Along the Gulf Coast, the GOP picked up a seat and lost a seat with the latter being a redrawn district to increase the chances of a black representative.

To illustrate the problems for the Democrats in Mississippi, consider the case of colorful Rep. Steve Holland.  In 2012, he penned a satirical resolution renaming the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America making a point about how people in Mississippi felt about Hispanics.  Holland ran as an independent to keep his seat to avoid a primary challenge against Ricky Thompson, another Democrat.  Holland lost anyway and complained that the legislature redrew his district to make him contend with a black opponent.  Another representative, Angela Cockerham of Magnolia, also dropped the “D” after her name and won reelection as an independent.

This illustrates the decline of the Mississippi Democrats, once dominated by whites.  The new legislature will have only seven white Democrats in the house and two in the state senate.  In 2008, there were 15 white Democrats in the Senate.  Assuming the GOP can find viable minority candidates to challenge minority Democrats in Mississippi, the flight of whites from the Democrats can be exploited even further.  As for Holland, it is all about “racism.”

Next: Louisiana