Valley North Subdivision resident Caroline Dace offers advice to Democratic U.S. Senate challenger Mike Espy on exactly where she’d like him to place his campaign sign in her yard on Oct. 23, 2020. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

The Democratic National Committee and Democratic state parties have reached a four-year agreement to guarantee more investment in state political infrastructure, including a “Red State Fund” for GOP-controlled states such as Mississippi.

Mississippi Democratic leaders and candidates have for years decried a lack of investment of money and manpower by the national party in Mississippi races and party infrastructure as the state has grown more solidly Republican up and down the ballot.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who lost back-to-back Mississippi U.S. Senate races to Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2018 and 2020, is one of those candidates. He welcomed Thursday’s announcement from the Democratic National Committee.

“I am thrilled to see this happening,” Espy said. “There is a new day in the national Democratic Party and I think I would attribute some of that to the new chairman (Jaime Harrison) being from South Carolina and just having lost in a red state. We’re friends and have spoken about the need for something like this. I’m thrilled to see that in his first month at the helm something like this is happening. This work means candidates such as I was can focus on having a winning campaign, messaging and outreach and not spend three-fourths of our time raising money and trying to build party infrastructure for the state.”

READ MORE: ‘They’ve failed us’: Inside the battle for control of the Mississippi Democratic Party

In a press release on Thursday, the DNC said the agreement will result in at least $23 million in direct investments to state parties and grassroots infrastructure during the 2022 midterm election cycle. This will include a “seven figure” Red State Fund “to put Republicans on defense” with direct investment and grants to states that meet two of the following: no Democratic senator or governor, less than 25% of the congressional delegation is Democratic and a supermajority of Republicans it the state’s Legislature.

Mississippi meets all these criteria, but no congressional seat appears party competitive in the deep red Magnolia State for 2022. Republicans control all but one congressional seat in Mississippi, and all eight statewide elected offices and both chambers of the state Legislature.

The DNC said the contract with state parties includes a data sharing agreement that will increase investment in down-ticket races, and also looks to the future for turning red states blue.

The agreement includes $15.5 million for the DNC’s State Partnership Program and reestablishing a joint fundraising committee between the DNC and state parties.

“As a former state party chair, I know firsthand how critical it is that we invest in the grassroots to strengthen the Democratic Party as a whole — and we can’t leave a single community behind,” said Harrison, the DNC chair. “With this agreement, the new ‘Red State Fund’ will allow us to take the fight to Republicans as they fight among themselves by providing unprecedented resources to Democrats organizing in in every corner of the country.”

READ MORE: Schumer says Democrats can add a Senate seat in Mississippi

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Tyree Irving, who took over as chairman last summer amid criticism that the state party lacked leadership and wasn’t supporting candidates, in the past accused the state party of “running away from the national party,” and vowed to work to bring more national Democratic Party support and funding to Mississippi.

Irving on Thursday said, “I commend Chairman Harrison for his foresight, and I don’t have any doubt we can turn Mississippi blue … It’s not going to happen overnight, but this is a four year agreement. It is a modest amount but it certainly will help … But it will never happen if we don’t get started.”

Irving said he is putting together a strategic plan to take advantage of the national help and, “it will be very targeted to increase voter registration and do a better job at messaging.”

“That’s been one of the problems at the Democratic Party from the national level on down, that we long since have been out of the messaging game,” Irving said. “But we’re getting back in.

“… This will take resources, and the DNC recognizes that,” Irving said. “We are not conceding anyting to anybody any more. Historically the Democratic Party ceded the South, but we are not going to do that any more. We are going to make progress. And when you make progress, you get where you’re trying to go eventually.”

Although he vastly outraised Hyde-Smith in last year’s election thanks to an influx of out-of-state campaign donations, Espy has said national party support came too late in the game and he was forced to create his own campaign infrastructure. Espy said the national party should invest money and manpower in red states such as Mississippi between major races, not wait to see if a candidate could be competitive.

“They need to stop overlooking Mississippi,” Espy said Thursday. “They overlook you until you become viable, and it’s hard to become viable when you’re overlooked … My campaigned raised $16 million — enough to win — but the money came very late, and I had to build the data, provide it to the party, finance the infrastructure through personal campaigning. (The national and state parties) have to invest in off years, relieve the burden for candidates.”

Espy said he invested about $4 million of what he raised to the state party, and “donated my donor list — most people actually sell them, but I donated it — with 260,000 donors to the party.”

Espy said he foresees a time “around the corner” when the Democratic Party will again be competitive in state races, and “Mississippi is going purple.”

“I know we are not Georgia, and we are not as urban as Texas and Louisiana, but we will be trending Democratic electorally,” Espy said. “We did well in the urban and suburban areas, and that trend is not going to reverse, it’s going to increase. We’ll see the Black population grow, young people trending more and more Democratic, education levels are increasing and we’ll see more immigration, from Hispanic and Asian people. Look at the trend lines — Mississippi is going purple and it’s going fast. If we can stop outmigration and bring more jobs in like with Amazon — more skills jobs — all those will advance us toward the day when Democrats can win the governor’s seat and the Senate seats. That day is coming. I plan to do all I can as a citizen to help hasten that day.”

READ MORE: Three-part series on how the Mississippi Democratic Party lost so much ground during the pivotal 2019 statewide elections.


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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.