Observers said they weren't sure why the state trended more Democratic. McDaniel said Republican voters may have stayed away, realizing Romney was safely ahead. Brandon Payne, executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party, noted a U.S. Senate race between Roger Wicker and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove helped draw people to the polls in 2008.
Also unclear is whether a better Democratic showing means Mississippi could become winnable for Democrats.
Some analysts have pointed to Georgia as the next North Carolina, a once solidly Republican state that becomes a battleground. Romney's 53 percent to 45 percent margin in Georgia was close to his 55-44 margin in Mississippi.
"I think the demographics of Mississippi have changed faster than people have recognized," said Derrick Johnson, state president of the Mississippi NAACP. "I think sooner than people realize, it's going to be in play in national politics."
But Mississippi's voters are among the most racially polarized in the country. Only about 1 in 10 white Mississippi voters chose Obama Tuesday, while more than 9 in 10 black voters backed the president.
The share of black Mississippians is slowly rising. But if racial and party identification remain synonymous in Mississippi, it could be a long time before a Democrat carries the state's six electoral votes.
Political analysts commonly say a Democrat starts with 40 percent of the vote, thanks to black voters. "It's getting the other 10 percent that's the challenge," Wiseman said
Pointing to Republican domination among state officeholders and increasing success among local officials, Payne said he's "confident" in the GOP's future.
"I still think that we will continue to win elections," he said.