By CARL SMITH
As the race for the White House tightens, county Republicans and political analysts believe a reinvigorated GOP base will help Mitt Romney carry Oktibbeha County, thereby wresting it from Democratic control.
In 2008, then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama won Oktibbeha County with only six votes separating him from his Republican challenger, John McCain. Former President George W. Bush carried the county in 2004 by a 2,000-vote margin.
Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government, said he believes the GOP will again regain control of the county because of waning Democratic excitement. In 2008, he said overwhelming Obama support helped drive the county to swing politically. This year, he said the pendulum has swung in favor of more and more voters disillusioned by the current administration.
This same GOP energy could help other Republicans to Oktibbeha County victories on Election Day.
“If I had to bet a chunk of my paycheck, I would say Mitt Romney will carry Oktibbeha County. The reason I say that is I don’t know of another time when Democratic Party enthusiasm was as high as in 2008. By every measure, it’s down several points from that time,” Wiseman said. “Republican enthusiasm in the county is also up, and it’s all about beating President Obama this time around. That’s what driving the whole process, that huge anti-Obama sentiment. It’s matched with the frustrations of Obama supporters, and the (Democrat) base is not that fired up.”
Marnita Henderson, chairperson of the Oktibbeha County Republican Party, said local GOP organizers are working hard to ensure a county victory for Republicans in November. Last week, the county party held a fundraiser dinner which featured numerous GOP U.S. House and Senate candidates. Speakers, including U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Reps. Gregg Harper and Alan Nunnelee, all commented on the growing party support in Oktibbeha County. Henderson said the fundraiser — and the fact all tickets were sold out for this year’s event — shows the county’s growing Republican enthusiasm.
“We’re working really hard for this election and we’re really excited. We have a very supportive base filled with people who are taking a stand that have been quiet before,” Henderson said. “We know Oktibbeha County went Democrat last time, but we’re hoping to return it to the ranks of the majority of Mississippi. We’re hoping for a strong turnout (on Nov. 6).”
Mississippi, a traditionally safe Republican state, last swung for a Democrat in 1976 when Jimmy Carter captured numerous Southern states. In 1992 and 1996, Bill Clinton’s Southern strategy flipped other traditional GOP states, but it failed to swing Mississippi.
On a national level, Wiseman said Obama’s poor performance in the first presidential debate could hurt him in regard to early voting. Almost 30 states allow some form of early voting, Wiseman said.
“That’s why Obama picked a bad debate to loaf on. He needed to come off the blocks strong — Romney knew that. You don’t know how much (early voting will occur) in the two-week interim between the presidential debates,” Wiseman said. “There’ve been huge lines for these early voting polls, and we don’t know exactly how much hay is in the barn. We could have a situation where 30-40 percent of a state’s vote is already in before the final debate is held.”
With fewer swing states in play this election season, the Romney campaign needs to hold traditional GOP-leaning states, flip Democratic gains made in Virginia and North Carolina, and attempt to pick up victories in the big three swing states — Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. The Obama camp is looking to hold the key gains it made in 2008 and hold its Western presence — Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
“Prior to the debate, President Obama certainly didn’t have the election locked down, but so much has changed since the debate. It’s changed the mix of states in play,” Wiseman said. “As of today, I think I would try to get Virginia and North Carolina, but then again things are looking better for Romney in Michigan and Iowa. Romney already gave up and pulled out of Michigan once, but he may go back in there.”
When asked who he believed would win the general election, Wiseman stopped short of picking a candidate.
“When I was talking to someone on the Saturday before the first debate, I was asked if the election was held then, who would win. Then, I would have said Obama. If it was held right now, I would come a smidgen more to Romney winning, but then again we’ve got a long time to go,” Wiseman said. “I think it’s entirely possible that the electoral vote could reflect one winner, and the popular vote, another.”