IN Mississippi this week, the Republicans lost a congressional seat they held since 1994. This followed the loss of a congressional seat in Louisiana that they held since 1974. They lost both special elections after trying to cut and paste Barack Obama over the Democratic candidate.
In a northern Mississippi district, Democrat Travis Childers won despite an attack ad that said, “When Obama’s pastor cursed America, blaming us for 9/11, Childers said nothing. When Obama ridiculed rural folks for clinging to guns and religion, Childers said nothing. He took Obama over conservative values.”
In Louisiana, Baton Rouge-area Democrat Don Cazayoux won despite ads saying a vote for him was a vote for the “radical liberal agenda” of Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and asking, “Is Obama right for Louisiana?”
Those results, plus the Republicans’ earlier special-election loss in Illinois of the seat of former House speaker Dennis Hastert, have some Democrats salivating and some Republicans in apoplexy. Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote last week that “the Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti-Rev. Wright or (if Senator Clinton wins), anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail.”
Gingrich said if the Republicans fail to “chart a bold course of real reform,” the party “could face a catastrophic election this fall.”
Representative Tom Davis of Virginia, former chairman of the House Republican campaign committee, said his party faces the worst atmosphere “since Watergate and is far more toxic than it was in 2006” when it lost control of the House and Senate. In fretting about the possible loss of 20 more seats in the House and six in the Senate, Davis noted that the defeats in Mississippi and Louisiana “were in the heart of the Bible Belt, the social conservative core of our coalition.”
What it means for Obama himself in the Deep South is already subject to vigorous debate, when the likely Democratic nominee for president is likely to face Republican John McCain. Merle Black, an Emory University political analyst, says the special races were too special to generalize about, as they pitted conservative Democrats against conservative Republicans who were widely viewed as weak. Childers, who supports gun rights and is anti-abortion, in fact distanced himself from Obama with an ad decrying “the lies and attacks linking me to politicians I don’t know and have never even met.”
Black does not see Obama winning much of anything in the Deep South. The white vote in 2004 for Democrat John Kerry was 14 percent in Mississippi, 24 percent in Louisiana, 23 percent in Georgia, and 19 percent in Alabama.
“In November, Obama is going to be perceived as very liberal across the board,” Black said.
A more optimistic analysis came from David Bositis, political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an African-American think tank in Washington. He said the combination of relatively disinterested Republicans and record enthusiasm among Democrats could help Obama pick off rapidly changing states ringing the Deep South such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, along with other swing states elsewhere.
Bositis said the Republican attack strategy in Mississippi and Louisiana failed because of “reality.” He said, “The reality is you spend $100 to fill up a gas tank. No TV ad is going to change that. The question Obama will be able to ask is, ‘are you better off than four years ago or eight years ago. The resounding answer is going to be, ‘Hell, no.”’ - The Boston Globe