Obama is certainly counting on taking some southern states. Last August in New Hampshire, Obama said:
"I'm probably the only candidate who, having won the nomination, can actually redraw the political map. I'll give you one specific example: Mississippi is 40% African American, but it votes 25% African American. If we just got the African Americans in Mississippi to vote their percentage, Mississippi is suddenly a Democratic state . . . And I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I'm the nominee, goes up 30% around the country, minimum."
To make up for some Democratic states Obama may lose, his campaign manager says they're targeting Virginia and Georgia, and keeping an eye on Mississippi and Louisiana, not to mention North Carolina. Most of the nonpartisan experts say he has a legitimate shot at Virginia (which has really become a mid Atlantic state and not a Southern state) but don't give him much of a shot at the rest.
But we know Mississippi. Does Obama have a shot? We do have the highest percentage of African Americans of any state - although Obama exaggerated slightly. It's 37%, according to the US Census Bureau. What does Obama mean when he says we vote 25% African American? Does he mean only 25% of the voters are African American? If so, that is not the case. In Presidential Elections, percentage turn out of black and white voters is about equal, according to a Newsweek interview with Dr David Bositis, one of the nation's leading scholars of black electoral politics, who says Mississippi has quite good black turnout. Another scholar of black voting patterns, Dr Thomas Schaller, in a column in the New York Times, also talked about the myth of low black turnout.
But Obama claims he's going to increase black turnout by 30%. Not going to happen. Black turnout in 2004 was 57%. Increasing that by 30% would be 74%. The only place with that kind of turnout is in all white states way up north. Most blacks are in the South, which has the most restrictive voting laws in the country, and therefore the lowest turnouts. It'll go up some, but not by 30%.
Not only that, but Dr Bositis, Dr Schaller, and others point out that any efforts to increase black turnout will also likely result in equal increases in white turnout. A good example is when the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed. Blacks registered to vote and actually voted in record numbers. But so did whites. Plus, don't forget there will be a corresponding effort to suppress black turnout.
So turnout is not the answer.
Voting in Mississippi is very racially polarized. In 2004, 85-90% of the black vote (37%) was Democratic and 80-85% of the white vote (63%) was Republican. If this pattern holds for white voters, not even 100% of the black vote will be enough for Obama to win. It seems to me, if Obama is going to win Mississippi, he's got to go after that white vote. So how is he doing with that?
Not too bad. Right now, polls show Obama trailing McCain by only 6 percentage points. But compare those results with those of Democrat Ronnie Musgrove versus Republican Roger Wicker for the US Senate, which show a statistical dead heat. Musgrove is getting about the same black vote as Obama, but he's doing much better with the white vote. So should Obama take lessons from Musgrove?
Obviously not. If Obama were to suddenly start taking the same conservative positions as Musgrove, Democratic voters in other parts of the country would desert him in droves - and Hillary Clinton would be the upset nominee at the Democratic Convention. (: Of course, Obama is not going to do that.
Obama is definitely smart and runs an extremely good campaign, so there is no way he is going to waste much time or effort in Mississippi. He has more money than he knows what to do with, so he'll probably throw some our way just to keep McCain on his toes, but don't hold your breath waiting for Mississippi to become a battleground state.
That little Obama speech I quoted at the beginning? Well, it worked pretty good in the primaries up north where no one has a clue about Mississippi.