"Angry," Hostile Whites May Cost Democrats in "Racially Polarized" Mississippi

On Friday afternoon, Southern-based reporterAdam Nossiterfiled from Jackson, Mississippi (Times Watch's hometown) onthe trail ofthe U.S. Senate race between Democratic challenger Ronnie Musgrove and Republican incumbent Roger Wicker. Nossiter didn't forgetto pack hisracial baggagefor the trip:

As a Democrat running for the Senate in the Republican stronghold of Mississippi, Ronnie Musgrove faces a challenge that was summed up in the angry words of a middle-aged white voter doing business at the courthouse here this week.

"I wouldn't vote for him if he was the last man on earth," said Roger Case, an employee of a fire-extinguisher company, as Mr. Musgrove campaigned a few yards away. Blacks in the courthouse beamed at Mr. Musgrove, a lanky former governor; whites, mostly, looked the other way.

Mississippi has not elected a Democrat to an open Senate seat since 1947, but that is not stopping the Democratic Party from heavily financing a major effort here, one of a handful of states - including North Carolina, Minnesota and possibly Oregon - it thinks it can pull from Republicans this fall in a reach for the filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

Nossiter stacked the deck of race cards by not breaking down the percentage of blacks that vote Democrat, only the percentage of whites that vote Republican.

The odds for a Democratic pickup, however, out of all the states in play, may be longest in Mississippi.

The numbers in this state - which has perhaps the most racially polarized electorate in the nation - do not favor the Democrat: whites, the majority, overwhelmingly vote Republican, and 85 percent of them voted for President Bush in 2004. Even if there is a record black turnout, Mr. Musgrove would have to get about 30 percent of the white vote to win. Nonetheless, analysts give Mr. Musgrove, a hill-country populist who championed education during his terms as governor and lieutenant governor, a better-than-passing chance, particularly as the credit squeeze penetrates even here.

And look at the sneaky way Nossiter conflated the now-disreputable Confederate flag with the state and U.S. flag.

Mr. Wicker is making sure the flag issue stays on voters' minds, running a ubiquitous television advertisement this week saying Mr. Musgrove "tried to kill our state flag." At the fish-fry rally for the Republican, an outsized flag, Confederate heraldry intact, presided over the room. On the highway into Jackson, billowing, gargantuan Mississippi and American flags fly over a giant banner promoting the McCain-Palin ticket.

Mr. Wicker is identifying himself with all three banners, a strategy to compensate for his unknown status outside his home precincts in the northern part of Mississippi, though he represented it over seven terms in Congress.

Later, Nossiter assumed that "liberal" is a toothless scare word that has no real meaning, (although he's never had a problem using "conservative" to mean something specific and kind of nasty).

Privately some Democratic insiders still give the edge to Mr. Wicker, in a state where the word "liberal" is still the most potent scarecrow of all.