Mississippi is a long way from political realignment

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2022

While American political discourse continues to careen to the poles of both ends of the partisan continuum, Mississippi’s current round of midterm congressional elections suggests nothing in the way of political realignment.

Mississippi’s midterms saw the majority of incumbents headed toward reelection. Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, and First District U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Tupelo, cruised toward the November general election with minimal opposition. The low turnout was about the only remarkable factor in their primary races. Kelly faces Democrat Diane Black and Thompson faces the GOP’s Brian Flowers in the general election.

The only major change came in the Fourth District Republican primary where incumbent GOP U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo was rejected by almost 68 percent of the district’s Republican voters and faced a second primary runoff against Sheriff Mike Ezell. Remarkably, the other GOP challengers to Palazzo joined forces the next day to formally endorse Ezell in the runoff and Ezell prevailed to win the GOP nomination and faces Democrat Johnny DuPree and Libertarian Alden Johnson in the general election.

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And in the Third District, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Guest was forced into a second primary runoff with self-proclaimed America First candidate Michael Cassidy — a Maryland native who recently moved to Meridian like TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and others perceived to have relocated residency for political advantage was quickly branded a political “carpetbagger.”

Again, political realignment was not visible except as to the degrees of current partisan alignment. The 2022 congressional primaries underlined a phenomenon identified by a group of Mississippi State University political scientists almost 20 years ago in which Mississippi evolved from monolithic Democratic rule from the courthouse to the statehouse to the U.S. Capitol to monolithic Republican rule.

Thompson has achieved “congressman for life” status in the state’s Second District, but it is difficult at this juncture and under the current congressional districting to see the other three districts realign despite the intensity of the national partisan debates.

In the Spring 2005 American Review of Politics, three MSU political scientists assessed the state’s partisan political landscape: “Mississippi entered the 21st century as a competitive two-party state far removed from its post-Reconstruction history of one-party Democratic domination. Yet Republican gains that had led to this emerging parity between the parties were not uniform across elective offices, as they had come first in federal elections and trickled down to state offices.

“Mississippi voted Republican for president for the first time since Reconstruction in 1964 and 1972 (by landslide margins), narrowly backed Democrat and born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter in 1976, and henceforth has cast every one of its electoral votes for Republican presidential candidates.

“Enduring U.S. House gains began occurring in the Nixon landslide reelection year of 1972 with victories by Republicans Thad Cochran and Trent Lott. Cochran and Lott then replaced retiring conservative Democratic U.S. senators James Eastland in 1978 and John Stennis in 1988. Democrats remained competitive in U.S. House races at the century’s end, however, retaining two moderate conservative whites (Ronnie Shows and Gene Taylor) and one liberal African American (Bennie Thompson, representing the Black majority “Delta” district) as congresspeople.

“With the retirements of boll weevil Democrats Jamie Whitten in 1994 and Sonny Montgomery in 1996, conservative Republicans Roger Wicker and Chip Pickering took their places to maintain two House seats for the GOP.”

What has changed over the last two decades is that while the broader partisan divide identified has not dramatically changed, the polar intensities within the two parties are significantly more intense. The fight is now among fellow Republicans (not conservative enough) and fellow Democrats (not liberal enough) and the tactics those on the fringes of both parties are willing to employ for their beliefs to hold sway.

From election denial to insurrection, from open calls for court packing and other constitutional extremes, and from the use of undocumented immigrants as pawns in cruel political stunts, current partisan battles are no longer as much inter-party as intra-party.


Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.