In his May 13 storyfiled just beforelast week's special Congressional election in Mississippi, a runoff between conservative Republican Greg Davis and conservative Democrat Travis Childers, reporter Adam Nossiterreacted in much the way his GOP-hating colleague Timothy Egan did, by accusing the GOP of shameful racial tactics.
Hoping to hang on to a Congressional seat in a tight special election here on Tuesday, Republicans in this mostly white and very conservative district are trying to make the vote more a referendum on Senator Barack Obama than on the candidates themselves.
In advertisements and speeches, Republicans have repeatedly associated Travis Childers, the white Democrat threatening to take the seat away from the Republican Party, with Mr. Obama. Republicans say Mr. Obama's liberal values are out of place in the district. But for many Democratic veterans here, the tactic is a throwback to the old and unwelcome politics of race, a standby in Mississippi campaigning.
Former Gov. William Winter, a Democrat, expressed shock at the current campaign.
"I am appalled that this blatant appeal to racial prejudice is still being employed," said Mr. Winter, who lost the 1967 governor's race after his segregationist opponent circulated handbills showing blacks listening to one of his speeches. Mr. Winter went on to win the governor's office 12 years later.
But there are signs that here in Mississippi, with its tortured legacy of race-based politics, the tactic may be working, particularly in a district with a comparatively smaller black population than in Louisiana, 26 percent. Mr. Childers's campaign said his negative rating among voters has risen acutely, internal polls show a sharp narrowing in the contest, and interviews with voters indicated the supposed Childers-Obama link could influence votes.
"It probably would," said Bill Chism, a refrigeration mechanic. Asked to elaborate, he ducked his head and said, "I'd rather not say," nodding to a black customer approaching his wife's flea market stall in Tupelo on Sunday.
Democrats scored a remarkable upset victory on Tuesday in a special Congressional election in this conservative Southern district, sending a clear signal of national problems ahead for Republicans in the fall.
The race card was less evident than his previous story, but Nossiter still dealt it:
But the Republican strategy of trying to link Mr. Childers to more liberal national Democratic figures fell short, as it did in Louisiana. Indeed, voters here were bombarded by advertisements equating Mr. Childers with Senator Barack Obama, a tactic intended to turn conservative whites away from Mr. Childers and which some politicians said played on white racial resentments. Mr. Childers, for his part, fiercely resisted the connection, calling himself over and over a "Mississippi Democrat."
The defeat is certain to put a damper on plans by Congressional Republican plans to roll out their new policy agenda this week in an effort to turn around their fortunes.