Group to advance southern Democrats takes shape

Posted at 11:24 PM, Aug 05, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-05 23:24:52-04

(CNN) — As Republicans retool their own 50-state strategy, a southern Democrat is on a mission to make his party competitive in the Deep South again, too.

Former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is launching a new political action committee today called the Southern Progress Fund that seeks to build a farm team of Democratic candidates. The organization will focus on statewide legislative and down-ballot races, which Musgrove argues are typically overlooked for bigger races, like senatorial and gubernatorial elections.

The one-time southern governor ran a surprisingly competitive Senate race in 2008 against Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, forcing the GOP to spend money to protect the seat in a deeply red state.

Musgrove said he was motivated to take on this new initiative after the conservative Koch brothers got involved in the 2012 legislative elections in Arkansas and helped flip both chambers from Democrat to Republican. That shift caused every legislative body in all of the southern states to be controlled by Republicans with the exception of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

In a release announcing the new group, Musgrove warned, “It will be several years before multiple states in the South are ‘in play’ or considered battleground states in presidential elections,” but he pressed that the effort is about candidate recruitment, local races and voter registration.

Musgrove argued that a cluster of southern states have enacted voter suppression laws that disproportionately disenfranchise low-income voters, African-Americans and Latinos, and the new organization will double as a voter registration and voter protection group.

He added, “The extreme far-right fringe of the Republican Party that currently has a stranglehold on the South is holding back much needed progress. That grip is loosening and Southern Progress Fund will work hard to speed up that process and make it okay to be a proud Democrat in the South once again.