Senate 2008: Can the Dems Make a Play at Mississippi?
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Nov 30, 2006 at 01:18:56 PM EST
Even as Democrats harbor serious concerns about being able to hold their lone remaining Senate seat in the deep South (that of Louisiana's Mary Landrieu), could it be that they actually have a chance to pick up a seat in the region come 2008? Over at the newly-launched Political Insider blog, Drew Pitt takes a bit of a stab at that question.
That brings us to [former Mississippi Attorney General] Mike Moore who has been the Democrats' dream candidate for some time. Moore almost stepped out of retirement and prior to Hurricane Katrina was in line to have challenged, and quite possibly defeated Trent Lott this year. Instead Moore wisely held back for the plum many Mississippi politicians have awaited, an open Senate seat.
With Lott cutting off senior Senator Thad Cochran's bids for leadership in the U.S. Senate; and the fact Cochran, who has served since 1978, is getting rather old; and because he is once more in the minority position, many believe Cochran will retire. This will clear the way for U.S. Congressman Chip Pickering to step up the ladder. U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor might love to run, but with Democrats controlling the House and a Chairmanship opening up for Taylor, its highly doubful. This clears the primary field for Moore to challenge Pickering. When you compare the two, Moore is the more adept debater, has a statewide organization, and speaks better on the stump than Pickering. One more thing, although the tobacco lobby might weigh in [because of Moore's leading role "in the landmark suit against the Tobacco Companies"], Moore would be able to easily outraise Pickering. Outraised and outgunned, and especially if the Democrats recapture the Governor's office in Jackson, Moore would be almost unbeatable. Add a prominent southern Democrat well liked by Mississippians, like Wes Clark to the national ticket and the Democrats will be rolling along like Old Man River.
I'm not quite as bullish as Pitt on Democratic chances in Mississippi -- particularly during a presidential year in which the state's voters will likely support the Republican atop the ticked by an overwhelming margin (Mississippi backed George W. Bush over John Kerry by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin in 2004, a closer spread than Alabama but a wider margin than every other neighboring state). That said, just about anything can happen in a race for an open Senate seat, even in the South, so there's little reason for the Democrats to overlook Mississippi should Sen. Cochran indeed opt to retire.
Looking at the dynamics of a potential Moore-Pickering race, which seems like a likely potential outcome of party primaries, Moore would come in with a number of strengths, not the least of which is his overwhelming favorability among the Mississippi electorate. Back in late-2005 when it looked possible that Moore and Pickering might square off for the seat that Lott flirted with vacating, Robert Novak (consider the source...) reported that "prominent Republicans" in Mississippi worried that Pickering "cannot defeat Moore."
More importantly, Moore is extremely popular. As best I can tell, the most recent public polling on Moore comes from an Ipsos-Reid survey commissioned by The Clarion-Ledger and the Associated Press back in 2002 that found 65 percent of likely voters rated the then-Attorney General favorably while just 18 percent rated him unfavorably, giving him the highest favorable/unfavorable ratio of any politician in the state. While it is certainly possible, if not likely that Moore's name recognition level is lower than it was back in 2002 (he has been out of office since 2004), there is little reason to believe that he would not enter a race for Senate with similarly impressive favorable ratings.
Of course 2008 is still a long way off and there is no definite proof that Cochran will not defy the prognosticators by running for a sixth term. Cochran's $350,000 cash-on-hand does not scream, "I am running for reelection", but we have been fooled trying to read the tea leaves in FEC filings from the state before (or at least I have). That said, if this seat does open up, we should make every attempt to capitalize on the vacancy and try to elect a new Democratic Senator from the state of Mississippi -- if not Mike Moore than someone else.