Until graduation from Ole Miss, I lived in North Mississippi. Ackerman, Starkville, Pontotoc and then Oxford.
I still have kin in Ackerman, Starkville and Pontotoc. Even though Jackson is where my house and office are, the hill country is home, and always will be.
With that background, I’ve known for many years that folks in North Mississippi — more specifically, Northeast Mississippi — don’t think much of the Coast, as a general rule. Consequently, they don’t think much of statewide candidates from the Coast. The reasons are varied. The Coast is too much like Louisiana, and Louisiana has New Orleans, so the Coast is like New Orleans, and that makes it bad.
Then there are the casinos, which are a major hang-up for some of my relatives. The Coast has the casinos, they surmise, so candidates from there are in cahoots with the gambling business, and that makes them bad. Never mind that most every elected official from the hill country is pro-casino in one form or another. That’s not the point, and it’s also not the point to poor-mouth folks for having a bias against the Coast. That street runs both ways.
The point is this: No matter how hard they work or how much money they spend, statewide candidates from the Coast do not stand a chance in North Mississippi. Period.
Tuesday’s elections made me believe that more than ever. In the northernmost vote-rich areas, Billy Hewes and Dave Dennis were wiped out at the ballot box.
In the GOP primary for governor, Phil Bryant won DeSoto (80%), Lee (66%) and Lowndes (74%) counties comfortably. Take a look at that DeSoto total again. It’s not a misprint.
The Republican primary for lieutenant governor didn’t go any better for Hewes. Tate Reeves easily won DeSoto (65%), Lee (62%) and Lowndes (65%).
Those numbers held true in the smaller counties, too.
It doesn’t matter if you win other vote-rich GOP counties like Madison and Rankin and Lauderdale, all of which Dennis and Hewes lost. If you get beat that badly in North Mississippi, your campaign is sunk. There’s no other way around it.
It’s not like Hewes and Dennis didn’t spend time and money up north either. I know they did. The first time I interviewed Dennis was more than 18 months ago, and he was on his way back from speaking to (if memory serves) the Tupelo Rotary Club.
Hewes’ and Dennis’ individual campaign itineraries that arrived daily in my inbox on plenty of occasions had Southaven, Tupelo, Columbus, New Albany, Batesville, Ripley, wherever – name a town, it was on there.
I didn’t expect Hewes and Dennis to win any of those counties, because Bryant and Reeves had big advantages in money and name-recognition, but those margins look made-up.
Will there be a Coast candidate on the statewide ballot in 2015?
Can anybody break the Curse of North Mississippi?
The numbers say no.