Kevin M. Kruse @KevinMKruse Historian. Author/editor of White Flight; The New Suburban History; Spaces of the Modern City; Fog of War; One Nation Under God; Fault Lines. May. 30, 2019 3 min read

Well, in case they don't, here's a thread on it.

First of all, it's important to remember how dramatically Mississippi's partisan loyalties changed during this period.

For a terrific overview, check out @CrespinoJoe's phenomenal book on it: 

The realignment was clearest in the presidential contests of the 1960s.

MS broke its age-old ties to national Democrats and instead chose independent segregationists in 1960 (Harry Byrd) & 1968 (George Wallace) and a GOP opponent of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (Goldwater).

At the congressional level, the realignment over civil rights was slower and more drawn out, largely -- as I've tried to explain repeatedly here -- because incumbent congressmen knew switching parties would rob them of their seniority and thus their power.

The Goldwater campaign (which took 87% of MS votes) helped elect the state's first modern GOP congressman.

A former Democrat, Prentiss Walker said it had abandoned states rights. In office, he opposed the Voting Rights Act & said civil rights activists were worse than the Klan.

After one term, Rep. Walker challenged Democratic Senator James Eastland, a conservative segregationist.

Walker tried to outflank him on the right, accusing Eastland of not doing enough to block civil rights. Eastland shot back that it was Walker who was soft on segregation.

With the two candidates trying to outdo each other as defenders of white supremacy, segregationist voters were torn. (As this Evans and Novak piece from 1967 notes, the state's Klan was split on the issue.)

But in the end, Eastland's incumbency and considerable power won out.

After Walker's defeat, the state reverted to an all-Democratic delegation, as the old Dixiecrats in office proved impossible to remove.

But as the 1972, three of them announced that they would be retiring at once, creating a sudden opening for Mississippi Republicans.

In one race, the Republican candidate did poorly and Democrats held on.

In a second, Trent Lott -- then an aide to Democratic Congressman William Colmer, a powerful segregationist who chaired Ways and Means -- switched to the GOP and successfully ran to replace his former boss.

The third GOP challenger was Thad Cochran, who had been both a fraternity brother of Lott's at Ole Miss and a cheerleader with him there.

And, also like Lott, Cochran was a former Democrat who switched to the GOP for his congressional run in 1972.

In 1968, Lamar Alexander recruited Cochran to co-chair Mississippi's chapter of Citizens for Nixon/Agnew.

George Wallace, a segregationist Dem running as an independent, had the state sewn up. So as Cochran recalled in this @Miller_Center interview, the job was a bit thankless.

Because of his work on the 1968 campaign, GOP leaders recruited him to switch parties and run for one of the open House seats in 1972.

Democrats split their votes -- the nominee was a segregationist state senator & black voters backed an independent -- so Cochran won out.

Cochran held the seat for three terms -- hanging on in 1974, even as the GOP suffered heavy losses after Watergate and Nixon's resignation.

When Eastland retired in 1978, Cochran ran to replace him in another hotly contested three-way race.

Watch this: 

Thad Cochran won by a plurality in the three-way contest, replacing Eastland and becoming the first Republican senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction.

His friend (and fellow former Democrat) Trent Lott won the other seat in 1988, and they've been Republican ever since.

You can follow @KevinMKruse.


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