/MS Democratic Party experiences political identify crisis

MS Democratic Party experiences political identify crisis

Michael Rejebian will tell you first that the political strategy he used to support Jim Hood, Democratic nominee for governor in 2019, was an utter failure. The Democratic Party’s best chance at the Governor’s Mansion for at least 16 years had been hailed as the campaign that targeted independent white voters in northeast Mississippi. Hood, a gun-toting and pro-life moderate, won four of the five attorney general elections largely by appealing to these voters. This focus was criticized by Democratic voices many times during the 2019 election. They said Hood should have done more to appeal more to the party’s black and more progressive base. Despite late shifts in strategy occurring before the election, these moves were futile. Hood lost all but two northeast Mississippi counties on Election Day. He also ran below his targets in major-black Democratic strongholds. Hood lost by five points to Republican Tate Reeves. Rejebian, Hood’s campaign manager, stated this week that focusing on moderate white voters is a way to ensure future electoral success. “And, even more importantly, it overlooks the potential future strength African American voters.” Bobby Moak is the current chairman for the Mississippi Democratic Party. Moak spoke out this week about the statistical gains in 2019 among white moderate voters in suburban areas and university counties. He said that the party should increase its efforts to attract more white moderates. Mississippi Today spoke to Moak this week, saying that “we see a lot more independents who want back.” They’re returning, as you can see in the 2019 post-election analysis precinct survey. You saw between 8 and 15 percent of voters return to the party in different parts of the state. This was evident from the post-election analysis precinct polling in 2019. One thing that I hold dear is that we cannot stand if we are all alone. All of us must be present: all blacks, all whites, and all combinations of moderate and far-left or far-right Democrats. “You have to have all those people coming in.” Rejebian’s and Moak’s clashing ideals highlights a political identity crisis within Mississippi Democratic Party. National Democrats debate whether certain progressive messages are too left-leaning for average Democratic voters. Mississippi Democrats, on the other hand, are struggling to decide whether certain conservative messages will appeal to average Democratic voters. Despite the fact that many moderate voters have left the party, Moak and other political moderates have retained the most power in the state party. The party’s majority base is now on the outside looking in, with more progressive candidates and voters. This unresolved tension has left the party without a clear platform and Democratic voters are getting mixed messages from their candidates. Every Mississippi Democrat is losing the messaging battle against the top-down Republican Party. This party has a clear platform with politicians who are consistent with their party leaders’ values. Marvin King, a University of Mississippi political science professor, said, “What 2019 taught us was that Mississippi voters will respond to candidates who run on conservative principles,” “The short-term, there is no way for Democrats in Mississippi at the state level to succeed,” King said. Democrats must now build for the future and ask themselves how they feel about losing. Janis Triplett Patterson from Booneville, a former professor at a community college, witnessed the impact of the identity crisis on her campaign for the Mississippi House of Representatives. Patterson ran as a first-time candidate and was not provided with any policy guidance by the state Democratic Party. She used other campaigns in Mississippi as a guide and focused her messaging on three positions that are now standard for Democrats: fully funding public education, expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Health Care Act, and increasing funding for Medicaid. When voters tried to press her about more sensitive issues, she spoke out about her support for tightening gun controls and “empowering women’s ability to make healthcare decisions with doctors rather than being criminalized.” Patterson admitted that she was aware that this could cost me points but it was okay. “I stated to people that I was a Democrat, and that I would not play on both sides. I stand for what I believe in and that is what I did throughout my campaign. Perhaps that was not the best strategy, but I’m not sure. But I ran because I believed that I was right.” Patterson used that strategy to target her district voters with ads featuring his pro-gun views and anti-choice views. Hood hoped to win more moderate white voters, particularly in northeast Mississippi, his way into the governor’s race. Hood’s strategy did not fare as well as Patterson’s. Hood only received one more vote than Patterson in the House district where Patterson lost easily to his Republican opponent. Voters in the district voted for Patterson and Hood’s candidacies, despite Patterson’s policy divertissements. Both were Democrats, so neither candidate won enough votes to win. “The party is in a horrible conundrum. King said that it is difficult to find an ideology lodestar that they can follow to victory. King stated that they don’t have enough numbers to win on left-leaning parties, even though the majority of them are left-leaning. King said that Mississippi’s moderates are conservative enough to not vote Democratic. Look at the top of this ticket and you’ll say “I don’t like the things I see.” They aren’t enthusiastic about supporting candidates or giving money to them. The party could do better if they listened to the majority of their voters and built on that. If your goal isn’t to generate passion among your base, then your chances of winning are slim.” The platform adopted by the Mississippi Democratic Party in 2016 would not help voters grasp what the party stands for. Consider health care. This is an issue that has sparked intense debate at the national Democratic Party, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic. Numerous prominent progressives on the national level support “Medicare For All” while others are more focused on expanding the Affordable Health Care Act to include more Americans. The platform of the Mississippi Democratic Party isn’t different from any other party or organization on health care. Notably, there is no mention of expanding Medicaid under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. This was a major campaign platform that many progressives and moderates in Mississippi support. The complete platform for Mississippi’s health care policy of the Mississippi Democratic Party states that “We believe that affordable and high-quality health insurance is part of America’s promise”, that Mississippians should have security, and that no one should be poor because they get sick, and that Mississippians should not go without health care. The party platform does not address many other issues that Democrats have been promoting during the campaign season. Infrastructure, education, and economics are not mentioned in the party platform. Mississippi Democrats are divided on the issue of abortion. The 2016 platform contains a 14-word statement that is open-ended and vague. Moak, the party chairman, stated that he doesn’t believe that the state party should lead issues that candidates champion publicly. Instead, he believes elected officials should draw their lines and expect support from the party. Moak stated, “You must realize that you won’t keep all the factions happy, okay, it’s just a fact in political life.” “The party isn’t here to decide policy positions. This is for the elected officials at the county, state and city levels. They want to push the issues. That’s when the party must step in and say, “Let’s make this happen.” Moak added: “Elected officials are more knowledgeable than us and should be able to see things from a wider perspective than we do. The party must support them.” However, with so few prominent Democratic elected representatives in recent years, the party has not provided much policy or messaging backing, as more than a dozen candidates told Mississippi Today. Jay Hughes, a white moderate who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018, agrees. Hughes, like Rejebian acknowledges that his 2019 appeal to white moderate voters is not a winning strategy. Hughes said, “I couldn’t have been more moderate if I tried,” and lost the lieutenant governor’s election by around 20 points in 2019. “We must admit that what isn’t working is unacceptable. “It’s time for us to change and start over.” Editor’s Note: Part one and three of our three-part series on the Mississippi Democratic Party.