Mississippi GOP Burning

We will continue the examination of abortion politics this year in the next few days. But, the results from last night’s election were so stunning, we need to shine a spotlight on them this morning. No, not West Virginia. It should surprise no one that Clinton, with 100% name recognition and a state demographically in line with her base of support, beat Obama in a state he had conceded to her already and in which he barely campaigned. The real news was from Mississippi’s First Congressional district where Democrat Travis Childers beat Republican Greg Davis by a margin of 54%-46%. Childers is no Barack Obama. He is adamantly pro-gun and pro-life, for example. Voters did not buy Davis’s efforts to tie Childers to Obama and his victory is a shocker. This is a district that George W. Bush carried in 2004 with 62% of the vote. The Mississippi race comes on the heels of a similar contest in Louisiana, where the GOP also tried to tie the Democrat to Obama. There, Democrats picked up a congressional seat in a district that went for Bush in 2004 with 59%. Earlier in the year, in the seat of former Speaker of the House Danny Hastert in Illinois, Democrats also picked up the seat. In the Illinois contest, there was no effort by the GOP to tag the Democratic candidate as an Obama clone. Republicans have a big, big problem on their hand. As the economy worsens and the Iraq war muddles through its sixth year, voters want a change. And the candidate who most embodies change, who has campaigned as a change agent all year, is about to become the Democratic nominee. If the GOP tries to distance itself from Bush’s unpopularity, it will be harder to energize their base which still loves the President. If they don’t distance themselves from Bush, Independents will flock to the Democrats seeking change. On top of the message problem, the GOP has a near-desperate money problem also. John McCain has raised some 80 million dollars. Barack Obama is north of 200 million dollars. And the two parties congressional campaign committees, that help fund congressional races, show a similar disparity. The Democrats had $44 million in the bank according to their first-quarter reports, while the Republicans had $7 million. In most close house races, an extra million dollars or two of television advertising or direct-mail can make the difference. Karl Rove is the man most responsible for putting the GOP in this quandary. His political strategy was based on energizing the base and building up, with a view towards getting 51% of the vote. If this meant polarizing the country, he seemed not to care. The Democrat most clearly aligned with a similar strategy, the person who first dubbed a campaign office the "war room," Hillary Clinton, has not done much better than Rove’s political progeny this year. The challenges the nation faces require a more far-reaching strategy, a political effort to stop the polarization and bring people together to solve some of the previously intractable problems. As luck would have it, the Democratic nominee has made that the other central theme of his campaign. It is not shaping up to be a good year to be running as a Republican. Michael Sean Winters
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