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franklin county times

Bush still leads state, but gap is closing

By By Sid Salter / syndicated columnist
October 27, 2004
In 2000, Mississippi voters gave George W. Bush his highest percentage margin of victory at 58 percent. On Nov. 2, Mississippians will almost certainly give Bush another Magnolia State majority, but look for the margin to be closer.
Four year of a stagnant economy, 18 Mississippi casualties in the war in Iraq, the deployment of thousands of Mississippians into service in Iraq and in the war on terror and a tighter job market will likely decrease the Republican Party's stranglehold on Mississippi in presidential politics that has existed in all but two presidential elections since 1964.
Another factor helping Democratic Party presidential numbers in the state could well be the contentious fight between Democrats in the Legislature and Gov. Haley Barbour over the 2004 Medicaid Reform Act pushed by Barbour and adopted by the majorities of both the state House and Senate.
On recent drives through rural areas of Mississippi, the appearance of Kerry signs and posters in areas thought to be solidly Republican is notable. Polling numbers also indicate some erosion in Bush's support here.
But when the dust settles, Bush should carry Mississippi on Nov. 2. The fact that the Kerry campaign has essentially written off Mississippi in terms of resources and personal appearances is a testament to the conventional wisdom that Bush will win here and the state's relative electoral vote insignificance.
Conversely, the Bush-Cheney campaign hasn't exactly camped out in the state either. States like Mississippi that have few electoral votes or that are considered "not in play" have been reduced to spectators of the presidential campaigns, not participants in it.
But while angst over war and the economy, fear over Medicaid and Democratic rumor-mongering over a possible reinstitution of the military draft (proposed in Congress this year by Democrats, not Republicans) has chipped away at Bush's lead in Mississippi, those issues won't be enough to give Mississippi's electoral votes to Sen. John Kerry.
The differences (or in some cases, the perceived differences) between Democratic Party and GOP positions on abortion, guns, stem cell research, gay rights, taxes and the other "wedge" issues remain enough to keep the Republicans in the majority in presidential politics in this state.
The last time Mississippians has a presidential choice between a liberal Massachusetts Democrat and a Republican named Bush was in 1988, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush defeated Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis with Bush taking 59.7 percent of the vote to Dukakis' 39.3 percent of the vote.
In that campaign, Dukakis made a major appearance at the 1988 Neshoba County Fair. He was politely received, but harvested few votes here.
Prior to that, Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy received 36.3 percent of Mississippi's vote in 1960 as the state's old post-Reconstruction Democratic Party began to disintegrate over civil rights issues. The 1960 presidential election saw the emergence of the "unpledged electors" who split with national Democrats over racial issues.
Bottom line, history suggests that Democrats from Massachusetts simply don't fare well on Mississippi ballots.
Need a barometer? The best fellow Southerner Bill Clinton ever did in Mississippi presidential voting was 44.6 percent of the vote in his re-election bid.
Despite Bush's almost certain victory, Kerry is likely to best that 1996 Clinton percentage here.
Sid Salter is Perspective editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledgerz.com.

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