All Eyes on Mississippi for Democrats

Mississippi is the next state in line for presidential primary elections. Democratic candidates are getting a generous amount of attention in the traditionally red state, with recent appearances by Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Leah Rupp, with Jackson's Clarion-Ledger, discusses the political climate.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up: voters are set to have their say tomorrow in Mississippi. We asked a group of state residents to tell us why they are burning with pride in their state. And a lonely fight to battle tuberculosis in North Korea. But first, let's go to Mississippi, where Democratic voters have their say in the primary tomorrow. Mississippi does not usually play a critical role in the primaries. But because the ongoing race is so close, the state is getting a lot more love than usual. Here to talk about the excitement on the ground is Leah Rupp, a political reporter for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. Welcome.

Ms. LEAH RUPP (Reporter, Clarion-Ledger): Hi, Michel. It's good to be here.

MARTIN: Thanks Leah. So we really need to clear this up - up front. Mississippi cannot provide enough delegates to make either Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama the nominee, right?

Ms. RUPP: Right. We've only got about 40 delegates, so it's just not enough…

MARTIN: Bur there's still a lot of excitement…

Ms. RUPP: …to make either one — oh, absolutely. Voters are really energized here. It's, you know, Mississippi is traditionally a red state. So I think it's hard sometimes for Democrats to get energized at all. But with all of these candidates flying in, Secret Service here, events back to back, we've got Obama here today. I mean, I think Democrats are really interested this year.

MARTIN: Now you mentioned that Mississippi's generally a red state. Almost 40 percent of the population is African—American. And as everybody I think probably knows, African—Americans tend to be heavily Democratic. So why is Mississippi such a red state? Is it that racially segregated? Are whites so generally block vote Republicans and blacks block vote Democratic?

Ms. RUPP: I think it's starting more to move that way. We've got a lot of Democrats in name only here. A lot of our Democrats will actually, probably vote for McCain. That's what a lot of political experts say…

MARTIN: You mean white Democrats? You mean white Democrats?

Ms. RUPP: White Democrats. Yes, yes, white Democrats will likely vote for McCain. And it's starting to move toward, to split along racial lines. Yeah, that's true.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Ms. RUPP: You know, I think it has to do with Mississippi's long, complicated history. You just can't peg Mississippi. It's fascinating, I think, and I think history plays a large, you know, part in that. And it's good and bad at the same time, you know.

MARTIN: Okay. So what are the odds? How does the Democratic primary look? Let's take each primary in turn - as we know Senator McCain has wrapped things up on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, who seems to have the edge?

Ms. RUPP: I think voters are still - I mean, I hear a lot of voters conflicted because they like both of the candidates. But I think that Obama has a really interesting support base here. I mean, I've heard all kinds of voters get excited about him, young voters just like you know, the rest of the nation. And of course the African—American vote, most will likely go to Obama. But then also I've heard some odd ones. Like I heard - this guy called me the other day. He's white conservative from an area of the state that's very Republican, and he told me that he just didn't want to vote for a career politician any more. So he was going to vote for Obama because he's not experienced.

So I'm hearing all kinds of different things. But I do think that voters are conflicted, and they like both the candidates. They'd really like to see a joint ticket, I think.

MARTIN: Really? Okay, and just tell me about on the Republican side, we know that Senator McCain of Arizona has sewn up the Republican nomination. But is there any activity for him just to kind of try to build some excitement for the fall? Do you see enthusiasm for him in the state?

Ms. RUPP: You know, the Republican side is really interesting in this state, too, because I think even though McCain has sewn up the nomination, people here are still very conflicted about him. The Republicans are divided. He is not socially conservative enough, I think, for a lot of Republicans in the state. So I hear voters call me all the time and tell me they are simply not going to vote because they don't want to vote for McCain. Now I don't know how that will change as we, you know, get closer toward November. I think maybe we'll see some unifying. But right now, there's a lot of discontent.

MARTIN: Okay, so preparing for a long night tomorrow night, Leah? Are you laying in the Red Bull and the coffee?

Ms. RUPP: Yeah. It's going to be a long night tonight too because Obama is here. But, yeah, I'm just trying to get through to Wednesday morning, and then I got to go back to the state legislature for that.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, thanks for joining us. Leah Rupp is a political reporter for the Clarion-Ledger. She spoke with us from Mississippi educational television in Jackson. Thanks so much, and good luck.

Ms. RUPP: Thank you.

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