How much influence would Bennie Thompson have in an election to replace him?

Mississippi 2nd District Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, was one of the names floated Monday as a possibility to replace outgoing Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano.

Thompson has represented the 2nd District — which encompasses the Mississippi Delta and parts of Hinds County — since the early 1990s. His seat is considered the safest in the state; his re-election every two years is all but guaranteed. Thompson said in a statement Monday that he has no interest in the DHS job, and will stay where he is.

Because of his tenure and string of relatively easy re-election campaigns, Thompson often holds considerable sway over municipal and county races within his district. And because of that, Thompson’s preferred candidate to replace him, should he get the DHS post, would have a built-in advantage.

Maybe.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson

Two Mississippi Democratic party sources were split Monday on how much influence Thompson’s endorsement would mean in an election for his old seat. If Thompson were to vacate the office he’s held for two decades, his political clout in the 2nd District would diminish, stripping his endorsement of the punch it normally carries, one source said.

The other believes there’s no chance of anybody winning the seat without Thompson making it known that’s who he wants to succeed him.

Assuming the latter notion is correct, one name to watch could be Jackson city councilman Melvin Priester Jr., who won Jackson mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s old Ward 2 seat last month. Ward 2 covers northwest Jackson and is within Thompson’s 2nd District.

Priester earned Thompson’s endorsement in the race to replace Lumumba; the congressmen even participated in a fundraiser for the new councilman. Priester is in his early 30s, has a law degree and is viewed as having solid potential. (For that matter, Lumumba earned Thompson’s endorsement in his mayoral race, but age could be an issue. Lumumba is in his 60s.)

If Thompson’s endorsement turns out not to carry its usual weight, former state Rep. Chuck Espy, D-Clarksdale, is a possibility. Espy lost to Thompson in the 2010 Democratic primary, but not as badly as some of Thompson’s other opponents, getting 47 percent of the vote.

In May, Espy lost the Democratic primary in Clarksdale’s mayoral race to former gubernatorial candidate Bill Luckett. Luckett, an attorney, won the general election and was sworn in as Clarksdale’s mayor earlier this month.

Former Greenville mayor Heather McTeer-Toney is another who would go without Thompson’s blessing. McTeer-Toney opposed Thompson last year, and got walloped. Thompson got 83 percent of the vote.

And as noted Monday afternoon by Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reporter Bobby Harrison, new Vicksburg mayor George Flaggs – who just resigned his state House seat to take the position – would have an interesting decision to make should Thompson’s seat become available.

The only certainties surrounding a possible election to replace Thompson is that the field would be crowded, there would be a Democratic primary runoff, and the question of how much weight Thompson’s endorsement would carry in his old district would be answered one way or another.

 

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