The consensus of political pundits is that President George W. Bush will win Mississippi in the November 2 presidential election, but few folks ventured a guess who would win nationwide — Bush or Sen. John Kerry.
“I’ve been studying this for 25 years, and I can’t guess who will win,” said Stephen Shaffer, a political science professor at Mississippi State University and director of the biannual Mississippi Poll. “When an election is this close, some event usually happens a few weeks before that crystallizes public opinion.”
Political consultant Mark McCreery of Jackson believes Bush will be reelected.
“I predict it will either be very close or Bush will win by six or seven points, but either way, it’ll be ugly,” he said. “As a challenger, you can’t get 51% of the vote in this country just because you say ‘I’m a good alternative and 51% of you don’t like Bush.’”
Hayes Dent, managing partner of Southern Strategy Group of Mississippi, predicted, “The numbers nationally will mirror those we saw when (Gov. Haley) Barbour got elected.”
“I think Bush will get 52% or 53%, about 295 to 300 electoral votes,” he said.
In Mississippi, Pontotoc attorney James L. Roberts Jr., and a former state Supreme Court justice, pointed out that
President Bill Clinton “only lost by a percentage point or two in 1996.”
“It’d seem to me that Bush would be in the lead, but I also sense a tightening of the race in Mississippi,” he said. “I think Bush will carry the state, but the Democrats are closing in.”
A well-known Democrat who declined to be identified said he was shocked to see that Bush had “only a single-digit lead against a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts” a month before the presidential election.
“If Bush loses Mississippi, it will be a backlash against Barbour, and the policies he’s tried to implement during the first nine months in office,” he said. “That’s got to be a wake-up call for the governor.”
State representative Steve Holland (D-Plantersville) agreed.
“Mississippi is going to be a closer state than public and national pundits are giving us credit for,” he said. “Bush will win Mississippi, no doubt. But Kerry will bring it close. People are seeing what this starve-the-beast philosophy the Republicans espouse does for their lives. It’s made them realize one of the great benefits of government service, that government’s not all bad. And because of that, I think they’re sensing this Medicaid debacle is really a Bush down program, and they’re going to vote in protest.”
Dent said he views the presidential election “as a referendum on Bush, not Barbour.”
“You can’t make the jump … by saying ‘I don’t like what the governor did about Medicaid; therefore, I’m going to support a guy who I’m not sure can defend my country against al Queda,’” he said.
The vacillation factor
According to an April poll by Shaffer, Bush reportedly had 61% of the Mississippi vote compared to 30% for Kerry, with 8% undecided. According to a mid-September poll by the American Research Group, that gap had closed: Bush had 51%, compared to 42% for Kerry and 1% for (Independent) Ralph Nader.
“The undecideds and independents make the final difference,” said Shaffer.
The Mississippi Poll reported the breakdown in basic party identification as 46% Republican, 43% Democrat, and 11% Independent.
“When you ask people who they plan to vote for, you don’t know how firm they are, if they’re just leaning, or if they’ll even vote,” said Shaffer. “Our tools aren’t yet strong enough to definitely put people in one camp or another. Even national polls are fluctuating wildly over basic party identification. I think Gallup is finding validity problems to doing these polls during the heat of a campaign. Average citizens have not fully figured out this thing.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture state director Nick Walters said the only time a Democratic presidential candidate has won Mississippi since 1960 was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“And he didn’t just walk away with it then,” said Walters. “What happens on the federal level, people have made the disconnect from the national Democratic Party.”
Because there’s a toss-up tie in several battleground states, Shaffer said the potential exists for “not just one Florida, but several.”
During the 2000 presidential election, lawsuits filed over the alleged miscounting of butterfly ballots in Palm Beach, Fla., delayed the official outcome until December, when Bush was declared the winner.
“Both camps have teams of lawyers, and I’m concerned that partisans may find all sorts of technicalities in each one of those close states,” said Shaffer. “It could just be bizarre.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.