Editor’s Note: This is the first of three articles that the co-authors of “Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power, 1976-2006,” will write for the Mississippi Business Journal. The article this week analyzes the statewide elections. Next week, Nash and Taggart will examine the state Senate campaigns, including the campaign for the chamber’s presiding officer, the Lt. Governor. The following week they will examine the state House elections and the race for Speaker of the House.
Two statistics confront the candidates who have qualified for statewide elected offices in Mississippi:
One: the general election candidate for each office in 2003 who spent the most money won the election.
Two: the average vote in Mississippi for Democratic gubernatorial candidates over the previous five elections was 376,000 while the average vote for Democratic presidential candidates over the same period was 405,000.
The average vote for Republican gubernatorial candidates over the previous five elections was 400,000 while the average vote for Republican presidential candidates was 546,000. Over the course of the last 20 years, Mississippi has grown more Republican voters than Democratic voters.
Considering these two statistics, and assuming the popular Haley Barbour will almost certainly spend more money than either of his two major Democratic opponents — former state senator Bill Renick or Jackson trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves Jr. — the incumbent governor is the favorite to be re-elected.
The wild card is that Eaves has the personal checkbook to finance a seven-figure campaign, which could keep Barbour occupied in the fall.
Next in order of importance is the office of Attorney General. Without question, the only person who stands between Haley Barbour and control of most of state government is Jim Hood. The incumbent AG has made life difficult for Barbour on a variety of fronts, and Republicans have recruited a well respected Gulf Coast lawyer — Al Hopkins — to challenge him. This will be the race that pits trial lawyers against the Republican Party-tort reform-business lobbyist coalition.
We know from internal polls that Hood is popular, so Hopkins starts out behind the curve. It remains to be seen whether Hopkins’ North Mississippi roots and his National Guard connections — he was Assistant Adjutant General in the 1990s — can help him overcome Hood’s four-year head start.
Secretary of State
The Secretary of State’s seat is open for the first time since 1995. From a political party’s perspective, this race is important because the Secretary of State oversees elections. A Republican win in this office means the GOP will control the election machinery of state government, and readers of the MBJ will remember how helpful that control was to George W. Bush in Florida in 2000.
The Republican candidates are former Columbus mayor Jeffrey Rupp, state representative Mike Lott of Petal, and Jackson lawyer Delbert Hosemann, while the major Democratic candidates are former state senator Rob Smith and assistant Attorney General John Windsor. Smith has run statewide before while Hosemann has made competitive, albeit unsuccessful, runs for Congress. Windsor is from Northeast Mississippi, which always gives a Democratic candidate a boost, especially in the primary. Rupp recently left his post as mayor of Columbus with generally positive reviews to take a top administrative post at Mississippi State. Lott has been a vocal leader in anti-immigration legislation this year.
Since none of these candidates is well known to the average voter, the outcome of this race will be determined by money — the candidate who raises the most and spends the most wins.
The State Treasurer, Republican Tate Reeves, has only to contend with perennial candidate Shawn O’Hara, this time running as a Democrat.
Ever heard the term “free ride”?
Phil Bryant is giving up the post of State Auditor to vie for Lt. Governor. State senator Stacey Pickering emerged early as the chosen Republican nominee (though he has to get past a minor candidate in the primary). As for the Democrats, they will choose between Todd Brand, a Meridian Community College teacher (though more important, a nephew of Greg Brand, one of the most successful behind-the-scenes political operatives in the state), and Jacob Ray, a top aide to Attorney General Jim Hood.
Neither of the Democrats has ever run a campaign nor does either enjoy a last name like Pickering. Democrats are once again the underdogs.
The race for Insurance Commissioner is the newsmaker at this point in the election season. To the delight and amazement of Republicans, the state Democratic Executive Committee refused to certify 32-year incumbent George Dale as a candidate. Dale is seeking judicial relief, asking a court to place him on the Democratic primary ballot. If he prevails, his personal affability and the sympathy he won by being kicked off the ballot guarantee him the front runner status. But his re-election is not a certainty.
Watch for a barn-burner match up in the Democratic primary between Dale and former Musgrove budget chief Gary Anderson, an African-American who ran a very competitive race for State Treasurer in 2003, and then in the general against Republican state senator Mike Chaney of Vicksburg, who has plenty of name identification and financial support on his side.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce
Finally, we turn to Commissioner of Agriculture. The incumbent is Republican Lester Spell, whom we know from internal polls is the most vulnerable statewide incumbent.
He faces a Republican primary and then former state Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole in the general. If Republican challenger Max Phillips can raise a significant amount of money, and can use it to carry the right message against Spell, then Spell will have trouble. Still, Republicans honor incumbency even more than do voters in general, and as a sitting Republican statewide elected official, Spell will be formidable. As with every other race we have profiled, the chief determinant of success for either of these challengers will be how much money they can deposit in their campaign accounts.