Low turnout Democratic and Republican primaries last week yielded two surprises. Political novice Howard Sherman was the surprise leader in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. Described by the Clarion-Ledger as the “Los Angeles-native venture capitalist and husband of Emmy Award-winning actress Sela Ward of Meridian,” Sherman will face Mississippi native Baria of Bay St. Louis in the June 26th run-off.
The other surprise was two white guys leading this ticket in a state where black voters dominate statewide Democratic elections. Black state Rep. Omeria Scott of Laurel finished third.
The Third District Republican primary for Congress will also feature a run-off. No surprises here. District Attorney Michael Guest of Brandon led the ticket and will face-off against Madison businessman Whit Hughes.
Turnout should be even lower in the June 26th run-offs unless candidates can spice up what have been tame contests so far. That means playing up policy issue differences, if any, and bringing up negative issues about opponents. So far there have been few major disagreements on policy, but some negative points began to surface.
The knock on Sherman is he only became a Mississippi resident two years ago and he and Sela have supported GOP candidates financially in the past. The knock on long-time Democratic activist Baria appears to be a lack of meaningful accomplishments.
The knock on Guest is that he got wealthy running a company that collects court fines while serving as full-time district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties. Guest claims he has had nothing to do with the company’s day-to-day operations, saying his vice president handled that. However, public filings show his VP to be the same person who serves as office administrator for his DA’s office.
The knock on Hughes is that as Deputy Director of the Mississippi Development Authority he was part of the team led by former Gov. Haley Barbour that made deals to land development projects with GreenTech, Stion and KiOR. All three of these deals went sour, potentially costing the state millions of dollars (collection efforts are still underway).
Whether these or other knocks will stir voter interest and spur turnout remains to be seen.
You can expect Sherman to be asked pointed questions about his real ties and commitment to Mississippi and Baria about why he hasn’t had more impact as a party leader. Whether either candidate will mount negative media blitzes is another question.
Negative media is likely in the GOP runoff given the party’s tendency toward such in recent elections.
Guest will need to answer whether he used his judicial connections as district attorney to get into business with city and county court systems to collect their unpaid fines; and how this occurred while he and his VP were both public employees. Hughes will need to answer how he was involved in the controversial economic development projects and what, if any, concerns he raised at the time.
In the end, whoever wins the Democratic runoff will likely be clobbered by Sen. Roger Wicker, while whoever wins the Republican third district runoff will likely clobber Democratic nominee state Rep. Michael Evans of Preston in November.
Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
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