| Hattiesburg American | www.hattiesburgamerican.com: www.hattiesburgamerican.com/article/20110906/NEWS0…TPAGE
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JACKSON, Miss.—The Republican Party has launched a major push to capture the Mississippi House of Representatives this fall, a goal that has eluded it since Reconstruction and that would remove nearly every vestige of Democratic control from the state’s government.
A win for Republicans in Mississippi on Nov. 8 would complete a near sweep of state governments across the South that began decades ago and accelerated in last year’s midterm elections. South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Tennessee now have Republican governors and the GOP controls both houses of the legislature in those states and North Carolina.
Mississippi is one of only four states holding legislative elections this year. The others are Louisiana, Virginia and New Jersey, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Democrats now enjoy a 13-seat advantage in the 122-member Mississippi House, while the Senate and six of seven other statewide offices are under Republican control. Attorney General Jim Hood is the only Democrat to hold statewide office.
The state GOP has brought in a new party boss: 25-year-old campaign strategist Tim Saler, who most recently headed up Republicans’ successful campaign to capture the legislature in North Carolina.
Republicans need a net gain of eight seats to take control of the House and are targeting 21 Democrats they believe are vulnerable. Mr. Saler, who is the state GOP’s executive director, said his party plans to spend more than $1 million supporting its candidates, deploying sophisticated polling and consumer data to get out the vote, as well as advertising and other help. "In some respects, we are bringing a gun to a knife fight," he said.
Democrats have brought in their own heavyweight from out of state, campaign expert Travis Brock, who successfully competed with the GOP as head of the Nevada Democratic Party for several years. Keeping control of the House "is our number one priority," Mr. Brock said.
The Democratic Party dominated Mississippi state politics for generations, and for decades Democrats held all state offices and controlled the legislature. After the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s, Republicans didn’t offer up a serious gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi until 1963. The party grew in subsequent decades, however, and Mississippi Democrats have been on the defensive.
Dozens of state and local officials have switched from Democrat to Republican since 2008, Mr. Saler said. The losses have taken their toll on Democratic fund raising and organization, Democrats say. The party concedes it has raised substantially less than the GOP for the House election, but won’t disclose by how much.