The ads were coming fast and furious at the end and some of them were pretty darn good. Sam Adcocks “The Interview” may have been the best Republican campaign ad since the late Senator Malcolm Wallop rode across his Wyoming ranch with a Port-a-John strapped to his horse. But voters weren’t worked up enough to go to the polls. This would suggest genuine disinterest for not only the candidates, but for what has become an increasingly ugly election process here in Mississippi.
Nevertheless, instead of burying the eleven establishment Republican losers or district voters who seem content to bury their district and themselves, let us praise the two men who made the run off with only 32 percent of the vote between them: Trent Kelly and Howard Zinn. They worked hard to get their voters out and it paid off.
Howard Zinn, the only Democrat in the special election, led the field. However, 83 percent of the total miserably low vote was split between 12 Republican candidates. Kelly only needs to consolidate that vote.
Kelly made the run-off by beating back a formidable field of Republicans, most of whom raised and spent more money than Kelly. A lot more in some cases. As mentioned, they were also backed by the state’s GOP establishment. While Kelly initially appeared the moderate candidate in the Republican field, since making the run-off, Kelly has shored up his talking points to sound more like an establishment Republican with eager nods to District One’s Tea Party Patriots.
The MBJ reached out to both Kelly and Zinn with a series of questions relating to the special election and the upcoming run-off. Their different responses said more about how their campaigns are now being handled than the candidates themselves.
When asked what they knew about their opponents, Kelly chose not to answer. Zinn, on the other hand admitted he knew little about Kelly other than, “he (Kelly) has made a career out of throwing people in jail and some people say he’s a nice guy.”
Some people might accuse of Zinn of being a fairly nice guy, too. He was definitely more candid in his response to the MBJ. When it was suggested that Kelly might be more moderate than the other Republicans vying for the District One seat, Zinn noted that Kelly had run as a democrat earlier in his political career and lost. “Next moment he’s running as a conservative. He seems to be all over the place. I am actually interested in seeing what Trent Kelly will run as next. A Tea Partier?” he asked.
Zinn was not surprised that Kelly ended up with more votes than the establishment-backed candidates, noting Kelly’s “had a decent record among voters where he has run before.” Zinn is counting on voters growing weary of Mississippi’s establishment leadership which is now all over Kelly’s candidacy.
Now that Kelly ended up in the run-off, he received an official endorsement from Governor Phil Bryant at the Tupelo Country Club last week. Apparently, Kelly’s handlers are not worried about what kind of signal a country club endorsement might send to average voters. Some folks might say it makes Kelly appear to be in the back pocket of the well-to-do. It may make Kelly himself seem elitist. Perhaps some one thought it might inspire Kelly voters to work a little harder, make a little more money, and join a country club themselves. Or maybe they just feel more confident in their get-out-the-country-club-vote strategy.
Democrats are hoping Bryant’s endorsement of Kelly turns out to be as toxic as his endorsement of Windy Swetman in the Biloxi Mayor’s Race. Or Bryant’s endorsement of Boyce Akins, his first choice for District One over Trent Kelly. Both of Swetman and Akins went down in flames. Could Bryant’s endorsement be a kiss of death?
Poor delusional Dems still have a tough time accepting the Big R still means everything in Mississippi. Dems statewide are going to have to offer something of substance, something beyond the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth before the majority of Mississippi voters start pulling the lever their way. Until Democrats effectively pitch actionable alternatives to our current neo-con leadership and connect with disenchanted voters on the right and the left, the establishment will remain established.
Whether Kelly is truly a moderate in conservative clothing won’t be clear until after he’s in office. He looks to be a lock. An Iraq War veteran, Kelly has 29 years in the Mississippi National Guard. He is currently a Colonel and serves as the Brigade Commander of the 168th Engineer Brigade and will be strong supporter of our military. That will carry a lot of weight a week after Memorial Day. Kelly also stated that one of his “top priorities will be ensuring that my office offers strong veteran services.” That would be a great help, hopefully he can get the entire nation to do the same.
For now, Kelly must make sure all those folks who voted for his other eleven GOP opponents return to the polls. Kelly is hitting all the hot buttons the base responds to. He told the MBJ his priorities are “getting government out of the way,” “protecting our borders from illegal immigrants,” and “protecting the second amendment.” As both a veteran and a District Attorney, Kelly knows a thing or two about government and protection. He made no mention of repealing Obamacare, but said he was also keen to represent what he calls “Mississippi’s conservative family values.”
Zinn made no mention of “Mississippi’s conservative family values” in his response to the MBJ. He did not mention Obamacare either, at least not directly. Zinn believes he is the more knowledgeable candidate to address the issues most important to District One’s success. He said he offers “practical solutions to creating a more healthy, vibrant and sustainable district.” Zinn added, “I am the right leader at this time to go to DC and not get caught up in the politics of repeal, destroying, and undoing. I want to rebuild, create, and uplift.”
Zinn will have the harder time reaching disenchanted and, apparently, valueless voters who chose not to participate in the special election. He must have them to win. Of course, anything can happen, particularly in what has often proven to be Mississippi’s wildest congressional district. But a Zinn win would have to be the most miraculous upset in Mississippi political history. It won’t happen with another abysmal turnout among District One voters.
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.