Just because Mississippi is among the rare group of states that have elections every year does not mean that the state always has compelling election seasons.
Unless unforeseen events occur, this year’s election cycle falls under the not-so-compelling category. All four general elections for the state’s U.S. House seats are expected to be snoozers. In all four elections, both major political parties are running candidates, and the candidates from the party out of power in each district deserve respect and our attention as they try to accomplish near herculean tasks. But those elections would be major upsets should those candidates prevail.
The respected Cook Political Report compiles what they call “partisan voting index” for each congressional district in the country. The index shows how strongly a district or state leans toward a party based on a formula developed by the Cook political scientists using historical data.
The partisan voting index for all four Mississippi House districts are in the double digits. Both the 2nd Congressional District, where Democrat Bennie Thompson is the incumbent, and the 3rd, where Republican Michael Guest is the incumbent, have partisan voting indices of 13 in favor of the incumbent. The 1st District, where Republican Trent Kelly is the incumbent, has a pro-Republican tilt of plus-18, while the 4tb District seat occupied by Republican Steven Palazzo is at plus-22.
In other words there is no naturally “competitive” seat in Mississippi, where under normal circumstances the candidate of each party would have a reasonable chance of winning.
There are districts with higher partisan voting indices than those found in Mississippi. But another study by the FiveThirtyEight blog, which also uses historical data, suggests that Mississippi has the most inelastic electorate in the country. In other words, the people who vote Republican in Mississippi generally always vote Republican, and the people who vote Democratic in Mississippi seldom, if ever, cross over.
The partisan voting index of the entire state, according to Cook, is Republican plus-10, which incidentally is lower than at least four states with governors from the other party. The partisan voting index of both Maryland and Massachusetts is more pro-Democrat than Mississippi is Republican, yet they have Republican governors. The reverse is true for Louisiana and Kentucky that have what appear to be popular Democratic governors.
On the other hand, Mississippi has not elected a Democratic governor since 1999 — former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. But remember that elasticity index. People in Mississippi are more set on how they vote than people in other states.
The NAACP and others are seeking through the federal courts this year to have Mississippi congressional districts redrawn in a way that would make at least one congressional district — likely the 3rd — more competitive. The state Legislature redrew the districts this year to adhere to population shifts found by the 2020 U.S. Census. That redistricting is being challenged by the NAACP on the grounds it diminishes the impact of Black voters by placing the bulk of them in the 2nd District and spreading the remainder out in a manner to minimize their impact in the other three districts. If a greater percentage of African American voters, who are the Democrats’ primary voting bloc in the state, were placed in the 3rd, then that district could perhaps become more competitive.
Most people believe the lawsuit is a long shot in the conservative U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Mississippi.
The early 2000s, when Democrats still controlled both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature, was the last time an effort was made to develop more competitive congressional districts. That year, based on U.S. Census data, the state lost a congressional district. The goal of Democrats in the state Legislature was to draw a new map where they would be the solid-blue 2nd District but make the 3rd District more competitive.
They attempted to do this by drawing the 1st District to encompass much of north Mississippi, including the Tupelo and DeSoto County areas, and stretching it all the way down into suburban Jackson. The late House Speaker Tim Ford, a Democrat from Baldwyn who supported the plan, dubbed it the “tornado district” — not a moniker that engendered support. But the intent of the plan was to place more African American voters in the 3rd District in an attempt to make it competitive.
But Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, the presiding officer of the Senate who was then a Democrat but later switched to the Republican Party, blocked the “tornado” plan. Since then, with a couple of exceptions, Mississippi has not had competitive general elections for the congressional seats.
Perhaps 2022 will be an exception for one or more candidates in Mississippi, but history and math are not on their side.