Butler Snow had a pretty good election, too, but not because of incumbent fatigue. The Ridgeland-based law firm used the market saturation model to land on the winning side in each of Mississippi’s four congressional races.
Butler Snow’s political action committee was listed on every winner’s campaign finance report, according to a review by the Mississippi Business Journal of the candidates’ filings with the Federal Election Commission. Although in two races, Butler Snow gave to both candidates in contests that were viewed as toss-ups.
Incumbents Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who represents the Second District, and Gregg Harper, a Republican who represents the Third District, each won and each got nearly 70 percent of the vote. They represent Mississippi’s old guard in the House of Representatives, because the other two congressmen are brand new.
State Sen. Approproations Commitee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, beat Democratic incumbent Travis Childers, himself serving his first term, in Northeast Mississippi’s First District.
But the biggest surprise — without necessarily being a shock — came in the Fourth District, where 11-term Rep. Gene Taylor, D-St. Louis, lost to Republican state Rep. Steven Palazzo from Biloxi.
Taylor was the lone candidate who did not receive any Butler Snow PAC money. The average donation to the five other candidates was $2,000.
There were two sure bets — Harper and Thompson. But the other two races had political experts stumped as recently as Monday afternoon.
Nunnelee, who adopted the game plan of the National GOP and looked for any reason to tie Childers to the Pelosi-Reid-Obama establishment, had been considered strong from the start. Palazzo used the same blueprint as Nunnelee but looked like a speed bump for Taylor as recently as Labor Day. He only became a roadblock in the past month.
The two defeated incumbents did not lose because they lacked support from Mississippi’s business community and the national business lobby. Taylor and Childers both were viewed as business-friendly, which sits near the top of the list of criteria any candidate must meet to get elected in Mississippi, and their campaign finance filings show it.
Childers got significant donations from Mississippi Power Company, the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, Renasant Bank and Viking Range. Taylor also got money from the EPA of Mississippi’s PAC, to go with those of Mississippi Power, Halter Marine and Community Bank.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the single most powerful business advocacy group in the country, had within the past year given its “Spirit of Enterprise” award to Taylor, and had outright endorsed Childers.
That depth of support from the business lobby is usually enough to all but guarantee victory.
It wasn’t this year. Anti-Washington anger and equal support from the business community proved a lethal political mix for Palazzo and Nunnelee.
Endorsements and campaign cash go a long way, but it can’t be the only thing a campaign has in its corner, say two political experts.
“Money means more than anything obviously,” said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute of Government. “But endorsements by themselves don’t mean an awful lot. Some do, but most don’t.”
“I agree with that,” said Stephen Rozman, professor of political science and director of Tougaloo College’s Center for Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility. “It’s the money that’s important.”