Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mississippi U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

August 30, 2006
69 Days Until Election Day

Mississippi U.S. Senate

Status: Republican Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Safe Republican

The impending reelection of Trent Lott is proof positive that sometimes there are indeed second acts in American politics.

After the 2002 midterm elections, Lott was feeling on top of the world, as the 3 term Republican was poised to once again claim the title of Senate Majority Leader. However, some unfortunate remarks at the lighthearted 100th birthday celebration of Senate colleague Strom Thurmond in December of that year, in which it appeared that Lott was endorsing Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist campaign, set off a racial and political firestorm of immense proportions and ultimately caused Lott’s fellow Republicans to abandon him as he set about doing damage control and ultimately, Lott relinquished his leadership post.

At the time, Lott informed colleagues that he was prepared to resign from the Senate entirely, rather than remain as a backbencher, but that would have entailed Mississippi’s then Democrat Governor appointing a Democrat to fill Lott’s seat, and threatening the overall balance of power in the Senate. So, Lott was persuaded to remain in the Senate and was given some important committee assignments, but his relationship with Bill Frist, the man who replaced Lott as Republican leader has never quite been the same.

Few expected that Lott would actually want to stick around past his current term and he was pegged as a likely retirement candidate in 2006, but as he adjusted to his new role, he discovered that he still had the desire to remain in the Senate and perhaps even make an attempt to return to the body’s elected leadership after the next round of elections. It appeared that in a deeply conservative state like Mississippi, the popular Lott would easily be reelected.

Then, one year ago this week, Hurricane Katrina hit, virtually destroying Lott’s Gulf Coast home. Since Lott had been counting on his large home being his main retirement asset, he was left with the prospect of perhaps needing to enter the private sector in order to make a substantial amount of money for the first time in his life. For a few weeks, it appeared that Lott was giving serious thought to not running for reelection after all. National Democrats were quite pleased with that turn of events, as they believed that if Lott did not run, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore would likely get into the race and as a conservative Democrat, and top vote getter in the state, he would be a difficult candidate for the likely Republican successor to Lott to defeat. There were all sorts of talk that a once safe Republican seat now provided a golden opportunity for a Democrat pickup, and perhaps the balance of power in the Senate shifting along with it.

In a very interesting event, the Chairman of the state Democrat Party, (whom Lott defeated in 1988 to first be elected to the Senate), appeared to be convinced that Lott would be retiring, as he told the media that he wished Lott would run again and that in the aftermath of Katrina, now would not be the time for “new blood” unless absolutely necessary. So, when Lott announced that he would run for reelection after all, Republicans breathed a huge sigh of relief, and the head of the opposition party now has to deal with the fact that he has basically endorsed the Republican incumbent’s reelection.

No top tier Democrat would have ever dreamed of entering the race against the seemingly unbeatable Lott, so he will now be facing Democrat State Representative Erik Fleming, who has been running for the post throughout all the twists and turns of the pre-campaign season. Fleming, who is African-American, was able to place first in the primary, in large part due to the turnout generated by a competitive Congressional primary in the district with the heaviest concentration of African-Americans, and then went on to be victorious in a runoff.

In 2005, it had been discovered that Fleming has in the past forged close political ties with the organization and followers of perennial Democrat Presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, whom many believes represents an anti-Semitic political cult of conspiracy theorists. Fleming has said that he never bought into all of what the LaRouchies preached and that he now regrets his affiliation with them. In personal correspondence with myself, Fleming has said that he can relate to making political mistakes and regretting being involved in extremist groups and that he believes in forgiveness. He has said that he has no intention of making hay out of Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond or trying to insinuate that Lott is a racist. Immediately after the late 2002 comments, some speculated that Lott may not ever be able to recover politically in a state that has the highest percentage of African-Americans in the country. However, his job performance ratings have remained very high, and perhaps as high as ever, since his apology tour and political demotion on Capitol Hill, and the vast majority of white Republicans and Democrats alike will be voting to reelect him in this federal race.

Lott apparently considers his reelection to be such a piece of cake that with 69 days left in the campaign, he apparently does not feel the need to have an official campaign website. He does though seem to once again be focused on making a return as Majority Whip or perhaps even Majority Leader, even though he would be a serious underdog for that post against Senator Mitch McConnell. GOP Colleagues expressed willingness to support him for the Majority Whip position though and that may have had a large influence on his final decision to be a candidate once again. Had Lott not been talked into seeking another term, the majority status of Senate Republicans would be thought of today as being far more on the brink.

Mississippi Republican Party link:

2006 Senate races predicted thus far: 9 D, 4 R
Post-election Senate balance of power predicted thus far: 36 D, 44 R