the republic logo

Analysis: Share of Republican vote in Senate primary may point to continued GOP gains in 2015

bug
Share/Save/Bookmark

JACKSON, Mississippi — Here's a number to watch in the 2015 statewide elections: Will more Mississippians vote in the Republican primary than in the Democratic primary?

It's something that's never happened before in a gubernatorial race. During the brief period after the Civil War when Republicans were competitive in state elections, there were no primary elections.

But the recent Republican U.S. Senate race won by Thad Cochran may be a sign that Republican dominance in general elections will finally translate into GOP primaries that are larger statewide than Democratic races.

That wasn't true even in 2011, when Attorney General Jim Hood was the only Democrat to win a statewide office. That year, Democrats drew 412,530 voters in their gubernatorial primary, while Republicans drew 289,788 voters. Democrats also drew more voters in their party runoff, as Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree became the first black gubernatorial nominee in Democratic party history.

It would still take a 60,000 vote swing from Democrats to Republicans for the GOP to draw even in 2015. But the trend has been headed in the Republicans' direction. In 1987, the 19,000 Republicans who voted in the primary where Tupelo's Jack Reed was nominated cast only 2.3 percent of all ballots for governor that day. The other 97.7 percent were in the Democratic primary.

The GOP's share of primary voters has risen steadily in every gubernatorial election since, reaching 41 percent of the overall primary electorate in 2011. Meanwhile, the number of people voting in the Democratic primary has fallen in almost every governor's race since peaking in 1983.

The 382,000 voters in Cochran's Republican runoff victory over state Sen. Chris McDaniel will be more than 60 percent of the general election turnout of at least 613,000. Democratic nominee Travis Childers won fewer than 86,000 votes in the lightly-contested Democratic primary.

The Democratic party's dominance in down-ballot elections long bolstered primary participation. Back in 1987, Republican races were a rarity. There were none for statewide offices and only eight for legislative seats. So Republican general election voters took part in local Democratic primaries — among the most notable a brief fuss over records that show McDaniel voted in the Democratic primary in 2003, a foreshadowing of complaints McDaniel would make about Democrats voting for Cochran in the Republican runoff.

But as Republicans continue to gain at to the local level, there may be fewer voters who show up for the Democratic primary to try to influence a local election.

Even if they start drawing more voters than Democrats, it's unclear if the Republican primary will become the only election that matters, in the way that Democratic primaries for decades drew more voters than anticlimactic general elections. The Democratic primary remained the biggest election through 1991, when Kirk Fordice became Mississippi's first modern-era Republican governor.

The Republican primary may never be the main event unless Mississippi's most faithful Democrats — African-American voters — move into Republican primaries in mass numbers. But some African-American Cochran supporters are calling for a larger role in the GOP.

Bishop Ronnie Crudup Sr., who ran a pro-Cochran political action committee and endorsed Haley Barbour's 2007 re-election bid, said on election night that black people need to look beyond Democrats to make their voices count in a Republican-dominated state.

"African-Americans understand that for their self-interest, they have to be a little wider in their thought than they traditionally have been," Crudup said. "We have to look not only at the Democrats but at the Republicans. If your interests are going to be represented, then some of us need to cross that line."

____

Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy

Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!

Story copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Feedback, Corrections and Other Requests: AP welcomes feedback and comments from readers. Send an email to info@ap.org and it will be forwarded to the appropriate editor or reporter.


All content copyright ©2014 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Privacy policy.