Nationally, mid-term elections are viewed as a gauge to Presidential and Congressional favorability or discontent, as well as a bellwether of things to come.
Mississippi held it’s version of mid-term elections June 4 with the majority of municipalities holding elections for mayors, boards of aldermen, and city councils at the halfway point between statewide and legislative elections.
So what can we learn from the outcome of Mississippi’s mid-terms?
One thing is obvious – as much as I’d like to not admit it – the Democratic Party’s strength in Mississippi continues to be in cities and towns.
Governor Bryant, Lt. Gov. Reeves, Secretary Hosemann, Congressman Harper and other prominent Republicans threw their support behind the GOP candidates vying for local office largely to no avail. Big names just don’t really help in local elections.
Democrats won most of the hottest races around the state – Meridian, Tupelo, Oxford, Starkville, Ocean Springs, Jackson, Vicksburg, and it appears, Hattiesburg.
What’s more, many of these winners have youth on their side meaning they may be around a while, perhaps giving Democrats a glimmer of hope in future legislative and statewide elections. Democrats continue to do a better job of cultivating and supporting younger candidates for office, something the GOP has to change. Seventy is not the new forty. The upward mobility of these municipal winners is something Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole will nurture with glee.
Mississippi Republicans must learn how to connect with municipal voters if they’re going to be successful at the ballot box. The grandiose conservative talking points must be simplified, clearly explaining how their principles can be put into practice at the local level to get results. This takes extra time and effort, something most candidates and office holders just haven’t done and many don’t want to. But while operating in generalities may work in Jackson or D.C., it doesn’t cut it on Main Street. People expect more locally; it’s easier to cut through the bull when you can look your elected officials in the eye at the grocery store or church.
Unfortunately, municipal governance can be tougher for the GOP because, you see, at the local level, even the staunchest conservative won’t complain about government spending or over reach if streets are paved, flowers are planted, and private property blight is aggressively pursued. They will support smoking bans locally while crying foul at even a hint of legislation nationally aimed at usurping their individual liberty. They will freely take grant money for local initiatives while complaining about budget deficits on the state and national levels. They will support higher taxes on specific service industries and back “build it and they will come” projects while complaining about the same practices in the state capitol and in Congress. It’s as if conservatives often lose their focus in their own backyard.
The GOP’s challenge in Mississippi continues to be how to hold true to their principles while honing a message that produces results at City Hall. This will take a concerted, consistent dialogue with voters but, clearly, such an effort has not been as high on the GOP priority list as it needs to be.
The question now is how these mid-terms will effect state and legislative elections in 2015 and can this round of municipal elections give us any indication of what’s to come then.
Democrats around the state are clearly encouraged by June 4’s results which will help them raise some funds and begin to focus on 2015. In 2011 they had a tough time getting candidates to sign up; I would expect a larger slate from the state’s liberals in two years.
But given the population trends as evidenced by the now-DOJ approved legislative redistricting maps, I don’t see a significant shift in the Legislature; Republicans should remain the majority party in both chambers.
What may be more intriguing to watch given these mid-terms is the statewide races, but even those will likely remain in the R column since, while conservatives may lose focus locally, they are more engaged statewide and nationally.