Voters of two minds regarding parties

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 5, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; In political science professor Dr. Joseph Parker’s estimation, Mississippians &045;&045; Adams Countians included &045;&045; have a certain schizophrenia when it comes to voting.

In presidential elections, Mississippians have voted Republican since the days of Ronald Reagan and have elected two Republican senators since the early 1980s. But in local elections, it’s a different story, with voters in most counties casting their ballots for Democrats. &uot;Essentially, the Republican Party has largely been engaged in building party strength from the top down rather than from the bottom up,&uot; said Parker, of the University of Southern Mississippi.

That trend has continued in recent years with the election of Republican governors and with the number of state Senate seats getting close to even between the two parties. Then why aren’t offices on the local level more evenly split? It boils down to the challenge of fielding enough Republican candidates throughout the state, Parker said.

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&uot;Part of it is that you would have to field Republican candidates for every (local race),&uot; Parker said, with candidates in many regions, such as the Delta, not having a realistic chance of winning.

&uot;Then part of it is, where do you get the candidates? The Republican core of leadership comes from business backing &045;&045; doctors, bankers, lawyers,&uot; Parker said. &uot;Not many of them want to be a sheriff or a supervisor. It would cut their pay by 90 percent.&uot;

Another other problem is that voters still tend to cast ballots in the Democratic primary in local elections because it’s assumed the Democratic candidate will win.

&uot;There’s this view that voting Republican is essentially disenfranchising yourself,&uot; Parker said.

This is not true of all Mississippi counties, Parker hastened to add. Pockets of Republican strength can most notably be found in such places as the Memphis suburb of DeSoto County, in Lamar County near Hattiesburg, in the three coastal counties and in metro Jackson’s Madison and Rankin counties.

Elections commissioner Larry Gardner said Adams County had voted democratic for as long as he could remember. &uot;It’s always been that way as far as I know,&uot; he said. &uot;You have a very high minority percentage in Adams County and they typically vote Democratic and a union worker population and they typically vote Democratic, too. I’m not sure that’s it (the explanation), but that’s typical.&uot;

Change may be on the horizon though, he said, based on results from the last few years. &uot;I think it’s changing now,&uot; he said. &uot;In the years I’ve been doing it we’ve had more voting Republican than 20 years ago. I don’t know if it’s an ideological change or something else.&uot;

To some extent, Parker said, the Republican Party’s future depends on how it wants to portray itself. &uot;There’s a sort of schizophrenia in whether the Republican Party should be the big tent that welcomes black candidate or whether it should be a coded message to white voters that ‘I’m your candidate,’&uot; he said.

Staff writer Julie Finley contributed to this report.