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On the Trail / TRENDS

Dixie win bodes well for Democrats

May 15, 2008|Don Frederick

Barack Obama wasn't alone in largely ignoring West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary. For political analysts, the contest that really resonated Tuesday night was in Mississippi.

There, for the third time this year, a Democrat won a special House election in a district dominated by Republicans. (The other two occurred in Louisiana and Illinois.) And, for the experts, these victories join other factors that should portend a big Democratic triumph this fall.

How shaken are Republicans? Rather than "spinning" what happened in Mississippi, the head of the GOP's House campaign committee, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, conceded that voters felt "pessimistic" about his party.

Cole also warned of a "challenging" environment facing Republicans this fall, and an overarching reason for that stems from public attitudes toward the GOP's leader for eight years, President Bush.

True, Bush won't be on the ballot this year. But if history holds, his high disapproval rating (69% in a mid-April Gallup poll) will translate into a massive drag on Republicans who are running.

That's especially bad news for the party's presumptive presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain. In recent White House elections, voters disapproving of the outgoing president have opposed his party's candidate by overwhelming margins.

And then there's this report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. In surveys conducted from late 2007 through March, 58% of voters under age 30 "identified or leaned toward" the Democratic Party, compared with 33% for the GOP.

The 25-point margin for the Democrats in this age group is a big gain from an 11-point edge in 2004. But perhaps more disheartening for the GOP is this perspective from Pew analysts: "Trends in the opinions of America's youngest voters are often a barometer of shifting political winds."

So that's the gloomy picture for Republicans.

Here's the caveat: These patterns are not immutable laws of physics; they can change. And with Democrats set to nominate either the first black man or the first woman for president, a dynamic will be added to the political calculus that could roil all the precedents that experts hold so dear.

-- Don Frederick

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Frederick is one of the writers of The Times' political blog, Top of the Ticket, at latimes.com/topoftheticket.

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