May 14, 2008

Mississippi: All Politics Is Loco

Hatched by Dafydd

Democrat Wins by Running for Protectionism

In Mississippi's First congressional district, a special election was just held to replace Rep. Roger Wicker (R-MS, 96%), who was tapped to fill the rest of term of former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS, 86%). Wicker was a strong conservative who typically won his district with 70% of the vote; in 2004, President Bush won the district by 62-37, and by 59-40 in 2000. Nevertheless, the Democratic candidate, Travis Childers, won yesterday by a relatively narrow 54-46, beating Southaven mayor Greg Davis.

The first question is, Why? Is Mississippi turning liberal? Does this indicate Republicans are going to be slaughtered in 2008?

Not necessarily. First, the Democratic Party was again quite clever in selecting a socially conservative populist for its candidate; Childers is just as anti-abortion and pro-gun as the Republican nominee.

Where they differed was mostly in economic policy: Judging by the campaign "news" that Childers chose to put on his website, his main line of attack against Davis was on the issue of free trade vs. "fair" trade -- that is, protectionism. Childers pummeled Davis over the Colombian Free Trade Agreement... and he demagogued it to death, saying that if it passed, Mississippi jobs would be "exported" to South America:

Travis Childers, the Democratic candidate for Congress in Mississippi's 1st Congressional District, today signed a “No New Trade Deals” pledge outside a closed plant in West Point and stressed the need to stand up for Mississippi's working families by fighting for fair wages and bringing good jobs back to the district.

Childers called on his Republican opponent, Greg Davis, to also pledge not to support new trade deals that unfairly send Mississippi jobs overseas. So far in his campaign, Davis has stayed silent, not denying that he would be a rubberstamp for trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA that are bad for the region.

“Sadly, my opponent, Greg Davis, continues to stay silent on the most important issues we face -- keeping our jobs,” Childers said. “Greg Davis has been silent on trade in the campaign, and so I'm sure he won't stand up for our jobs in Congress.”

“As an economic leader and small businessman who created more than 1,000 new jobs in my community, I will always stand up for the needs of working Mississippi families,” Childers continued. “I have pledged to fight against unfair trade deals that send our jobs overseas and fight for fair wages so the working people of Mississippi can make ends meet.

So why did this work? Why was Childers able to ride opposition to Capitalism into the Capitol? I think we get a clue from the next paragraph in that "news" item:

Davis recently received the support of a business group known for opposing minimum wage increases and has not said how he stands when it comes to trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA. And on Davis 's Web site, he does not focus on trade, jobs or economic development.

In fact, Davis doesn't even mention them! Looking at Greg Davis' own website, under "Issues" -- which you cannot reach directly from the front page; think about that -- here is the totality of what issues Greg Davis stood for in yesterday's runoff election:

Taxes and Spending
Make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Bury the death tax. Restrain spending.

[Probably not the best idea to lead off by mentioning President Bush, but at least this is a specific policy that Davis can defend; the rest of his issues are like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.]

National Security

Support our armed forces by insuring they have the manpower and equipment to fight and win.

[This is so vague that even Democrats could say it; remember when they complained about body armor and jerry-rigged up-armoring of Humvees?]

Illegal Immigration

Protect the border. Enforce our immigration laws. Require proof of U.S. citizenship to obtain taxpayer-funded benefits.

[Democrat Childers also campaigned on taking a "tough stand to stop illegal immigration into our country."]

Mississippi Values

Defend our values. Support the Second Amendment. Stand up for the unborn.

[Childers is right with Davis on both of these vague issues, along with opposing same-sex marriage.]


Advocating policies that strengthen our economy by focusing on lower taxes, a simpler tax code, fewer regulations, and less government red tape.

[Childers: "Even John McCain said that Congress has been spending like 'drunken sailors.' As someone who has been balancing a family checkbook for years and has run two businesses, this defies all common sense. As Chancery Clerk, I balanced 16 consecutive budgets. As Congressman, I'll fight for balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility."]

So what, exactly, did Republican Greg Davis do to differentiate himself from Democrat Travis Childers? In particular, what was Davis' response on the free-trade/protectionism debate?

With Childers hammering Davis on the issue, Davis desperately needed to campaign up and down the state, correcting Childers' misstatements and fabrications about free-trade agreements and defending in particular the Colombia FTA, which is before Congress at this very moment. But trade doesn't even appear as an "issue" or campaign news item on his website.

In fact, Googling for about a half hour, I couldn't find a single statement by Davis on free trade. This is the central policy attack launched against him by the Democrat, and he's evidently barely responding. This is surreal.

So what "issue" did Greg Davis run on? Oh, a huge one for Mississippi (dripping irony alert):

Davis, the mayor of Southaven, launched a new TV ad this week linking Childers with Obama and Wright.

The ad blasts the Prentiss County chancery clerk for his silence when Wright "cursed America, blaming us for 9/11...

"Travis Childers - he took Obama's endorsement over our conservative values," the ad concludes. "Conservatives can't trust Travis Childers."

(Alas, as it turns out, Davis was likewise silent about Jeremiah Wright, a fact which Childers gleefully pointed out, of course. Home run for the Democrats.)

Longtime Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill was fond of saying "All politics is local;" he meant that in the end, at least in House elections, people tend to vote not on grand national issue but on local issues: city streets and county roads, public transportation, local businesses, sales and property taxes, and so forth.

There are seeming exceptions, such as the 1994 Contract With America; but even then, the contract had to be sold locally in each district. (It was, which is why Republicans swept into power then.) National goals, like requiring a 60% majority in the House to pass a tax increase, had to be brought down to the local level: Each Republican had to show voters how tax increases hurt them more than they helped.

In this case, from what I can tell from 2,000 miles away, Childers was running an entirely local campaign based on bread-and-butter district issues:

  • He attacked free trade by claiming Mississippi-1 would lose jobs;
  • He claimed that Davis was in the pocket of Big Oil and other special interests and argued that this meant higher gas taxes, which he claimed Davis had supported;
  • He claimed that Davis had opposed funding education in the district.

In response, Davis seemed to hang his campaign on linking Childers to ultraliberal Obama and Wright. When has this ever worked? Certainly never when the local pol has never campaigned alongside the national figure and disagrees with him on numerous issues important to the region.

Didn't anybody tell Davis that neither Obama nor Wright was on the ballot in his district? If his entire campaign was to tie Childers to Obama, then he had to do something to prove that Childers was somehow like Obama... he had to find a local issue on which Childers was unacceptably liberal, then pound on it like a beatnik on a bongo.

So what is being done by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the arm of the Republican National Committee that is supposed to recruit and help elect Republican candidates for the House? Evidently nothing: Candidate recruitment is clearly lagging (especially in MS-1!) -- how many Iraq or Afghanistan war vets are running? how many popular political figures? how many experienced administrators? -- and messaging is frankly pathetic.

Here's Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK, 100%), Chairman of the NRCC, from the NYT article linked above:

Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the party was disappointed and needed to be better prepared to deal with conservative Democratic candidates, but he warned that time is short.

“Voters remain pessimistic about the direction of the country and the Republican Party in general,” Mr. Cole said. “Republicans must undertake bold efforts to define a forward-looking agenda that offers the kind of positive change voters are looking for.”

Yeah; that would be nice.

The NRCC should set up a local task force for every, single endangered GOP congressional district, plus another for each district where the Democratic incumbent is at all shaky. Each task force must determine the major problems in its district, what the voters are most worried about. Then they must craft both policy and messaging that (a) would resolve or at least mitigate the problem, while (b) fitting within the overarching Republican philosophy of trusting individual people, families, and business owners rather than the government.

This is nothing new; in the past, the NRCC has done this very well. But I've seen little to nothing of this sort done for 2008... has anyone seen anything?

Then the NRCC should hook up with (or recruit) GOP candidates in each of these districts and work with them to merge Republican policies and messages with that of the candidate. For example, such a task force in MS-1 would have identified voter fears about free-trade agreements, and it would have developed messages pounding home the fact that Colombia can already sell all its goods here without any tariff... but American companies -- including those in Mississippi -- have tariffs slapped on them when they try to sell American goods in Colombia. And that is what the Colombian FTA would overturn, allowing Americans, even those in Mississippi, to export more products to South America.

They could have worked with Greg Davis to promote job training programs. A campaign could have pointed out that less than 10% of Mississippi jobs are export related, about half the national average. Why should this be?

Together, national and local GOP could have created a hopeful, forward-looking vision: If the state of Mississippi and the counties inside the district were to promote and invest in export industries (chemicals, paper products, and such) by lowering corporate taxes and relaxing some regulations, then with the free-trade agreements already in place, upper Mississippi would start attracting jobs and luring companies to MS-1, not "exporting" jobs and hemorrhaging businesses. They could attract both American-owned companies and also at foreign-owned companies operating in Mississippi.

That is what a local-issues campaign looks like. That is how Davis could have clearly differentiated himself from Childers. He could have presented his bold vision of a reviving and thriving local economy, versus Childers' defeatist holding action, clinging to the old economy because he's so terrified of change. Davis could have brought in more Haley Barbour and Bobby Jindal and less Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, and Jeremiah Wright. And I think he would have won; if not, at least he would set himself up for a rematch in November, if Childers turns out to be more liberal than advertised -- which is probable, as Childers "grows in office." (Like Sen. James Webb, D-VA, who now has an 85% "liberal quotient" from the Americans for Democratic Action for 2007.)

Instead, Davis went for a silly scare campaign that nobody believed (Childers is just Obama in drag!) and squandered a conservative district; and the national Republicans were no real help at all -- not in pushing Davis to enunciate policy differences, and certainly not in messaging. Wonderful job there by the NRCC.

Tom Cole had the last year and a half to "define a forward-looking agenda that offers the kind of positive change voters are looking for.” Now he has less than six months. I think it's time for Rip Van Cole to roll out of his hammock and get on the hump... we've got some heavy-duty campaigning to do.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 14, 2008, at the time of 6:33 PM

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The following hissed in response by: AMR

I receive many calls for monies from Republican organizations and have been for over a year. Generally I refuse to talk to them but when I do I tell them that they have done next to nothing to stop wasting my tax money; when they were in control or now when they are not the majority. To me actions speak lauder than words. I will probably vote Republican because they are usually the best of the worse, but the leadership doesn’t seem to get the message even after 2006.

In Governor Jindal’s interview with Mr. Hewitt he explained the Republican’s problem simply and clearly. Good for him; now will the Party listen?

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2008 7:59 AM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

I don't think it's the NRCC's job to work that hard in local races. I think they should be setting up the next "Contract with America" based on commonsense conservative principles, and describing policies that could be readily enacted with a Republican Congressional majority. THEN, all they need to do is advertise the dickens out of it, allowing individual candidates to "sign on" and use it in their own advertising. It saves the candidate time having to "explain the issues," and lets the NRCC/RNC campaign for a majority, rather than individual candidates. States should do similarly for their legislatures.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2008 8:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: SlimGuy

Simply look at the turnout both for this special election and the recent primary in Miss.

The turnout was 1/5th of what voted Republican in 2004 in the same district.

It was simply a sit out for a low interest special election.

The 2004 Republican turnout in this single congressional district was twice the turnout for the entire state in the recent primary there.

The above hissed in response by: SlimGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2008 12:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I don't think it's the NRCC's job to work that hard in local races.

Sno, it's the NRCC's job to elect Republicans in those districts by any legal means necessary. It absolutely is part of their job to "work that hard in local races." That is the entire purpose of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the counterpart of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee.

The DCCC works tireless, morning, noon, and night, to elect Democrats in those swing districts. If the NRCC sits down, folds its arms, and says, "It's not our job to elect Republicans... all we must do is write a new Contract With America, then allow individual candidates to sign on and use it in their own advertising"... if that's is their attitude, then expect veto-proof Democratic majorities in both chambers.

If that is what you want, then the approach to take is to persuade the NRCC to be nothing but a content generator. If, however, you want the GOP to at least hold the line and maybe even pick up a net seat or two, then you must persuade the NRCC that it really is their job to get Republicans elected.

Even if it means working hard in each swing congressional district.

It's even their job to work in state legislative races; where do you think future congressional and senatorial candidates come from? The state legislature is the farm team for Congress.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2008 2:31 PM

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