Southern special elections now feature Obama

Two of the major storylines that I had been following closely are now coinciding -- the special elections in MS-01 and LA-06 and the debate over Barack Obama's electability. Republicans have been very pessimistic about their chances in both districts (polls have shown Cazayoux leading in LA-06, and Childers came within 400 votes of picking up MS-01 in the first round). And, as we know, desperate times call for desperate ads...

Predictably, the GOP is using the old strategy of tying the local Democratic candidate to national leaders identified as ultra-liberal. For many years, the bogeyman used to be Ted Kennedy; he was soon joined by Hillary Clinton and, last year, by Nancy Pelosi. But in a development that is surprising many by how soon it came about, Kennedy and Clinton appear to have been replaced by... Obama.

Republicans are now running a series of ad "accusing" Cazayoux and Childers of ties to national Democrats, among which "liberal Barack Obama" figures prominently. It all started earlier this week, when Greg Davis released a controversial ad tying his opponent Childers to Obama and to Jeremiah Wright. Since then, the NRCC has released ads of its own; the NRCC's ads are much less controversial than Davis' and they stay away from Wright, concentrating instead on taxes and campaign donations. Here is one that is running in LA-06:

And here is the ad in MS-01 (this is now the second one that seeks to connect Childers to Obama, after Davis's ad using Wright):

Both of these ads include the name of other Democrats, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi. As such, they are part of an effort to nationalize both of these special elections, take them away from local issues to show voters the big picture of a national fight between two national parties. Given the heavily Republican lean of both MS-01 and LA-06, Cazayoux and Childers have been doing their best to distnace themselves from their leadership in DC and portray themselves as conservative, and this is the predictable response. Note that Democrats do exactly the same thing when they link local Republicans from blue states to George Bush and they blame moderate GOP representatives for voting for a Republican speaker.

What is surprising, however, is the confidence with which Republicans are now using Obama's name. A few months ago, the GOP was concerned that Obama might durably shift party allegiances and lift the entire slate of local Democrats; there is apparently no such fear left in the NRCC's ranks. In fact, Politico details the GOP's plan to tie conservative Democrats with Obama; their article reveals that polling has been conducting in LA-06 showing Obama suffers from a very low approval rating.

Cazayoux and Childers are both expected to win at this point based on polls and on the results of the first round of voting in MS. Were they to lose, it would create a lot of chatter about Obama's down-the-ballot drag; if they win convincingly, however, Obama would likely benefit tremendously in the superdelegate chatter and Clinton's argument that Obama is too risky a proposition in the general election would be undermined. Most of it, of course, would be quite unfair; these districts are very Republican and any attempt at nationalizing the stakes is bound to help the Democratic candidates, not to mention that the GOP is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into saving them. Inversely, the RNCC's failure to use Obama's name successfully would not mean that the Senator has no electability problem; in 2006, the GOP failed at nationalizing any election no matter how hard they tried. The electorate was determined to vote for their local Democratic candidates no matter what.

For now, the GOP is succeeding in creating confusion, and early returns are worrisome for Obama's hope that superdelegates pay no attention to the GOP's confidence to run against him. Travis Childers is now distancing himself from Barack Obama, going as far as denying that Obama has endorsed him.

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