Since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 the Democratic hold on the Deep South has been in decline. Once a stronghold for a party that was born on the back of common support in this part of the US for slavery and white supremacy, between Oklahoma and North Carolina there remain only 8 state-wide elected Democrats remain in office – six of these in North Carolina, one in Florida, and the eighth is Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.
In spite of this evidence of Democratic leanings Mississippi is, in keeping with historically ingrained Southern conservatism, a strongly Republican state. Pollsters are predicting a clear victory for incumbent Mississippi Republican governor Phil Bryant in the upcoming November elections. His closest rival? Truck driver turned politician Robert Gray, whose rags-to-riches story has been making headlines since his surprise election as the Democrat candidate in August. With a predicted holding of just 28% of the vote compared to Bryants forecast 66% however (Mason-Dixon Polling and Research), it seems Gray will be unlikely to make any gains for the Democrats.
The story is predicted to be similar across the south, leaving the party’s hopes of maintaining a foothold in the Deep South with the likes of Hood. Seeking his fourth term, Hood is a rare Mississippi-born Democrat who has married his political ideals to his southern heritage with great success. Since taking on the post of AG in 2003 he’s fought some huge battles: Google over prescription drug sales, insurance companies looking to wriggle out of payments in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and WorldCom over tax evasion. He’s a big name in the state and is still, after three terms in office, thought to hold 50% of the vote – a firm majority.
However, this is 5 percentage points fewer than he was given in April. Republican rival Mike Hurst has crept up to 44%. With recent form for bringing corruption charges against the now ex-commissioner of the Mississippi prison system fresh in people’s minds he’s a strong contender in a state that has proven in electing the incumbent AG that it can vote for the candidate not the party.
Hood is heavily reliant on the support of the generally firmly Democratic black community in Mississippi to boost his vote count – their turnout will be key to the final outcome. The 2014 mid-term elections were reported to have had the worst nationwide voter turnout in 72 years, and of all states Mississippi ranked sixth from bottom, with just 29.7% of the eligible voting population actually turning up at polling stays to cast a vote. The lower the overall turn out the more important the individual numbers become so both the Democrats and GOP have a lot of work to do in the run-up to the day to persuade voters that every opinion counts. Can the blues hang on in there or will there be another nail in the coffin for Deep South Democrats? We wait with baited breath for the results to tell us.