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    Southern Democrats Find Obama No Hindrance, and Maybe a Benefit

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    Southern Democrats Find Obama No Hindrance, and Maybe a Benefit

    Post by sang_garuda on Fri Oct 31, 2008 6:32 pm

    Running in a special congressional election last May, Republican Greg Davis used a tried-and-true Mississippi tactic: a commercial linking Democrat Travis Childers to liberals, especially presidential candidate Barack Obama.

    ``Obama says Childers will help build his liberal movement,'' an ominous-sounding narrator said.

    It didn't work. On Election Day, Davis lost by 8 percentage points and now -- engaged in a rematch with Childers -- he strikes a different tone. ``Since this past spring, most of you have given me the same advice that my own father gave me,'' Davis says. ```Greg, stop slinging mud and make this campaign about what we need.'''

    Confounding conventional wisdom, Obama's nomination so far isn't boosting Republican support among white Southerners, at least not enough to negate dividends that Democrats expect from black voters' enthusiasm.

    In Davis's case, attacking the first black major-party nominee ``so angered the black vote'' that it backfired, said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government.

    ``Travis Childers needs to write Greg Davis a check for running that ad,'' Wiseman said. ``Tying Childers to Obama in that case didn't hurt Childers at all.''

    Democratic Challenges

    Across the South, Democrats are mounting strong challenges for U.S. House and Senate seats in Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, where Republicans have profited for a generation by tying opponents to a national Democratic Party they say is out of touch with Southern values.

    ``If you're somebody who has got some support, some white support, then Obama could make the difference by bringing out black voters,'' said David Bositis, who analyzes black voting patterns at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

    Through much of the South, white Democratic politicians aren't running from Obama the way many tried to distance themselves from earlier nominees, from George McGovern in 1972 to John Kerry in 2004. Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Mark Warner, a former governor, has repeatedly appeared with Obama in the state. In Georgia, Democrat Jim Martin, challenging incumbent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, embraces some of Obama's health-care proposals.

    Republicans Eye Obama Voters

    Even some Republicans are talking nice about Obama during the campaign's final days. Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker has run a radio ad charging that Mississippi Democrats take African-American supporters for granted. ``I'm supporting Barack Obama for president and Roger Wicker for U.S. Senate,'' a woman says in the spot.

    Childers is favored to beat Davis in Mississippi's first congressional district, according to the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. The special election was called earlier this year to replace Wicker, a seven-term Republican representative who was appointed to the Senate seat vacated by former Republican Leader Trent Lott.

    About 28 percent of the district's population is black, and Republican Davis likely would have had better prospects if Democrats had nominated ``a white Protestant named John Smith'' for president, Wiseman said.

    ``People are excited,'' said James Morris, 61, a worker for the city of Tupelo, who predicted enormous turnout for Obama.

    Childers hasn't rushed to embrace Obama or the national Democratic Party, though he hasn't criticized Obama either. During the special election campaign, he denied getting the Illinois senator's endorsement. This fall, Obama isn't mentioned in campaign literature, ads or speeches.

    `A Mississippi District'

    Childers ``is not running as a New York Democrat,'' said Merle Black, co-author of ``The Rise of Southern Republicans.'' In white-majority Southern districts, ``the Democrats who are running are highly conservative on social issues,'' Black said.

    At a campaign stop in Nesbit on Oct. 28, Childers said it isn't remarkable for a Democrat to succeed in the northern Mississippi district, which Democrat Jamie Whitten represented from 1941 until Wicker took office in 1994.

    ``It's not a Republican or Democratic district. It's a Mississippi district,'' Childers said.

    Curtis Usry, 75, who owns a grocery store in Nesbit, called Childers a good fit for the district. ``He's from the conservative wing of the Democratic Party,'' Usry, a Democrat, said while Childers met voters in his store.

    Childers bucked Democratic leaders to vote against the $700 billion financial bailout package. His campaign Web site touts an endorsement by the National Rifle Association.

    Voting Issues

    Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, a former Mississippi governor running against Wicker for the Senate, called Republican President George W. Bush a ``good man'' earlier this week, and said he agrees with Republican presidential nominee John McCain's tight-fisted approach on government spending.

    ``If the Republicans are right on an issue, I'm going to vote with them,'' Musgrove said at the Country Skillet restaurant in Southaven.

    Mississippi Republicans said they'll prevail because, as Wicker put it after a rally in Tupelo, ``most Mississippians are mainstream, Main-Street conservatives.''

    Davis, meeting with supporters at a fish-fry in Coldwater, said his district is ``very conservative,'' and that Childers isn't being honest when he downplays his party affiliation.

    ``You'll never see the word Democrat on any of his literature or in any of his commercials,'' he said. ``But on the ballot you'll see it.''


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