JACKSON — The Neshoba County Fair is a mandatory stop for retail politicking in Mississippi, and this week’s campaign speeches are happening just a few days before party primaries for governor and other offices.
Candidates mingle with the sweaty masses of people who gather in hundreds of shotgun-style cabins in the red clay hills outside Philadelphia. Most of the cabins have gained air conditioning in about the past 25 years, but much of the socializing still takes place on front porches, under the shade of oak trees or in the dusty open spaces of the fairgrounds, even with temperatures climbing into the high 90s and humidity thickening the air.
The fair dates back to 1889, and the first political speech there took place in 1896. The fair was put on hold during World War II but started again in 1946. It’s is a big annual reunion for extended families, and it’s place to for politicians to backslap and shake lots of hands as people to swap stories, guzzle sweet tea (or maybe something harder) and watch horse races (without placing legal bets).
On Wednesday, candidates for lieutenant governor, attorney general, auditor and insurance commissioner speak under the tin-roofed pavilion on the main square of the fairgrounds.
On Thursday, the speakers include candidates for governor and treasurer.
Candidates frequently have masses of supporters wearing their T-shirts or carrying their signs, and that doesn’t happen spontaneously. Some provide transportation and free admission to the fair.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s campaign sent an email Saturday saying it will provide free bus rides to the fair Thursday, leaving from Jackson, Laurel and Columbus. “Those who sign up to ride the bus will also be given a free pass to the Fair and a T-shirt,” it said. “Lunch will be provided, too.”
Democratic and Republican primaries are Aug. 4 for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor; regional offices such as public service commissioner; legislative seats and county offices such as sheriff and supervisor. Runoffs, if needed, are Aug. 25. The general election is Nov. 3.
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