COFFEEVILLE, Miss. — Democrats scored a remarkable upset victory on Tuesday in a special Congressional election in this conservative Southern district, sending a clear signal of national problems ahead for Republicans in the fall.
The Democrat, Travis Childers, a local courthouse official, pulled together a coalition of blacks, who turned out heavily, and old-line “yellow dog” Democrats, to beat his Republican opponent, Greg Davis, the mayor of Southaven, a Memphis suburb. With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, the vote was 54 percent for Mr. Childers to 46 percent for Mr. Davis.
The seat had been in Republican hands since 1995, and the district, largely rural and stretching across the northern top of Mississippi, had been considered one of the safest in the country for President Bush’s party, as he won here with 62 percent of the vote in 2004.
Having lost a similar Congressional race this month in Louisiana, Republicans had worked desperately to win this contest, sending Vice President Dick Cheney to campaign for Mr. Davis, along with Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas; President Bush and Senator John McCain recorded telephone messages that were sent to voters throughout the district.
Merle Black, a Southern politics expert at Emory University, called a Democratic victory potentially “a huge upset, and an indication of a terrible year ahead for the Republicans.” He added, “In theory, this should be an easy win for them.”
Marilyn Musgrave held on to her seat in Colorado's 4th by a mere 2.5% against a damaged candidate. Bob Schaffer is already running behind Mark Udall in a state where Schaffer has a decisive registration advantage. To say these two have an uphill battle in front of them is an understatement.
The national mood in 2008 is turning out to be considerably more toxic than 2006 when Republican's expectedly lost the House but stunned many by coughing up the U.S. Senate as well. The economy has weakened considerably, the national right track/wrong track polls have entered a free fall, the Iraq war is as unpopular as ever. There is a desire for change amongst independents and, of course, Democrats. Just as importantly though the Republican base is depressed and not turning out,
Mr. Davis had been hoping for a large turnout in his home of DeSoto County, where roughly 15 percent of the district’s voters live, and which is solidly Republican and mostly white. But a last-minute appearance for him by Mr. Cheney on Monday apparently failed to rally his base sufficiently; indeed a modest room at a local convention center was hardly packed.
“There are indications that the normal Republican turnout is just not there,” Mr. Black said. “If they can’t win up there, where are you going to win?”
Bush fatigue has set in. After years of sticking by a deeply unpopular president is anyone surprised that the base has little fight left in them? Besides that it is hard to deny the reality of our economic situation in the same way that one can quibble over whether or not we are "winning" in Iraq, as the base was wont to do. When it costs you $60 to fill up your tank, when your grocery bill is $40 more a week, when the value of your house has fallen 10% and your mortgage payment has skyrocketed you can no longer deny reality. Suddenly defending the policies and Party that brought this mess on the American public is a lot less appealing.
Throw in the fact that the Party's presidential nominee is an apostate to most of the base and it appears that Republican candidates may be facing a perfect storm this fall.
Musgrave, to her credit, seemed to take the near loss in 2006 to heart. She has been much more responsive to her constituents and far less visible on divisive social issues. She's no longer the House champion of a Federal anti-gay marriage Amendment for instance. Is the new more responsive and less polarizing image enough? In an ordinary year one would assume yes but 2008 is not an ordinary year. Musgrave's opponent, Betsey Markey, does not carry the personal baggage that her 2006 opponent did and may be able to ride the coming Democratic tsunami. Let's not forget too that Musgrave needed a large infusion of cash at the last minute from the National Republican Congressional Committee to eek out that 2006 win. This year the NRCC is essentially broke and will not be able to come and rescue candidates as they have in years past.
Schaffer has done his best to moderate his image but he's run a clumsy and error filled campaign. He has stoked a scandal by endorsing the slave labor practices of the Marianas Islands. It's been a two-fer scandal that not only ties him to despicable human righst abuses but also to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Schaffer handler Dick Wadhams has done his best to intimidate and bully the press but they appear less compliant than in the past. The shine is off Wadhams after the embarrassing collapse of his candidate in 2006, George Allen, and Wadhams (like Rove before him) rely heavily on their perceived strength and power to intimidate the press and opponents alike.
I've thought for quite some time that Shcaffer was poised to absorb a 10 point defeat or more in the Senate race. Recent results only confirm those suppositions and now have me convinced that Musgrave is in a fight for her political life. Her safe Republican seat is, in all likelihood, no better than a toss-up as of this morning.
Nationally John McCain cannot break the 45% ceiling. This despite very high name recognition, good press treatment and with the Democratic candidate largely focusing on each other and not the Senator from Arizona. That has to be another worrisome sign for GOP candidates, strategists and partisans. It looks as though the historic 2006 drubbing the Republican Party absorbed was just the beginning, the wave it seems will crest over their heads in November 2008.