"I'm a Mississippi Democrat: pro-life and pro-gun," former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove stumps on the campaign trail. Musgrove knows if he hopes to defeat Republican Sen. Roger Wicker he has to appeal to the values of a conservative Mississippi electorate and distance himself from his national Democratic colleagues. The abortion lobby in Washington DC binds national Democrats - whether by choice or force - to oppose pro-life policies. One group wants to change that.

Kristen Day serves as executive director of Democrats for Life of America, the national organization for pro-life Democrats. On the day I spoke with her last week, she said national Democrats had just finalized their 2008 platform language regarding abortion: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empowers people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

"We didn't get all we asked for," Day said, but she cited progress from 2004 when "we didn't even have a seat at the table." The 1996 and 2000 national Democratic platforms included a conscience clause recognizing a place for pro-life Democrats in the party. In 2004, the party stripped that language. "We wanted a restoration of the conscience language," Day said. While Democrats for Life did not get that inclusive language, they were pleased about the language seeking the reduction of abortions as well as supporting a woman's decision to have a child.

"Pro-life Democrats are speaking out more" Day said, "plus taking action, not just words." She said since 2006, Democratic leadership has made a positive "step in the right direction toward a big tent. Leadership stood up and supported pro-life Democrats like Travis Childers from Mississippi and Don Cazayoux from Louisiana."

Even fierce defenders of abortion like Dana Goldstein, a writer for Reproductive Health Reality Check, accept the Democrats new pragmatic politics. "In a reproductive health dream world, pro-choice Democrats would have been elected in Lousiana's eighth district and Mississippi's first...But in reality, reassuring conservative Southern voters about core social issues was likely the only way Nancy Pelosi could have added these two seats to her total. And by preserving a continued Democratic majority in the House, Cazayoux and Childers... ensure that bills restraining choice will largely stay off the legislative docket," she blogs.

Day says half a dozen state Democratic parties have modified their platforms to be more inclusive by allowing conscience clauses, or simply removing pro-abortion language in favor of silence.

The Mississippi Democratic Party state platform allows for inclusion, but while pro-life Democrats seek to move the national party more pro-life, the platform of Mississippi Democrats has moved in the opposite direction. Just last month, the Mississippi Democratic Party Platform said on abortion, "Choice: The Mississippi Democratic Party is the party of inclusion and we believe in the sanctity of life." Today, the platform reads, "The Mississippi Democratic Party is the party of inclusion and acknowledges that our members include those who are pro-life and pro-choice." Mississippi Democrats stripped the "sanctity of life" provision from their platform.

Consider another change in the Mississippi Democratic Party platform. Last month, the platform said, "Marriage: We believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman." Now the Mississippi Democratic Party Platform says nothing about marriage.

In 2004, nearly a million Mississippians voted to amend the state constitution to specify marriage as only between one man and one woman, and to reject gay marriages from other states. Mississippi voters were not silent on the issue. It could be that the Mississippi Democratic Party believes after 2004, the sanctity of marriage issue is moot.

But again, you see Musgrove campaigning in the Delta saying, "I'm very conservative. I am pro-life, anti-gay marriage. And again, that's my personal belief, but I think it's also very representative of Mississippi." Musgrove does not see the issue as moot.

The Mississippi Democratic Party has seen growth in participation by young activists and committed liberals. But in doing so, and in changing their platform to reflect a more national Democratic ideology, they are not only leaving behind their candidates, but the values that are "very representative of Mississippi" as well.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.