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GOP, Dems focus on personal contact, election commissioners

Parties prepare for November 2 voter turnout

Party chairs are gearing up for an unprecedented turnout of more than one million voters in Mississippi November 2.

“We are very interested particularly in two congressional candidates and are working hard to turn out the vote,” said Mississippi Republican Party chair Jim Herring. “We are very enthusiastic about Clinton LeSueur in the second congressional district race against incumbent Bennie Thompson, and Mike Lott, who is making a very spirited race in the fourth congressional district against incumbent Gene Taylor. Both are underdogs, but we feel if we can get out a heavy vote for (President George W.) Bush, the more it will help Bush and them.”

State Democratic chair Wayne Dowdy said the party received information earlier this month that U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, may make a brief campaign stop in Mississippi as a last-minute swing through a number of toss-up states.

“I hope he’ll be able to do that,” said Dowdy. “I think the presidential election may be closer in Mississippi than some people might expect. If he swings through Mississippi, Sen. Kerry will probably stop in the second congressional district, maybe Jackson, in support of Thompson.”

Since he won a special election in 1993, Thompson (D-Bolton) has represented the second district, which stretches from Jefferson County to Tunica County, and includes a predominantly black and impoverished Delta region. LeSueur, of Greenville, earned 44% of the vote in the 2002 election.

Both Herring and Dowdy have logged hundreds of miles on Mississippi roads this month, meeting with party chairmen in all 82 counties.

“We just had a campaign school for some of the chairmen at the Coliseum Ramada Inn,” said Dowdy, referring to the Mississippi Association of County Democratic Chairpersons. “We had a sizable group of maybe 30 with an emphasis on absentee voter participation and active voter turnout.”

Around the same time, Herring was hosting a Democrats for Bush press conference at the state capitol with Gov. Haley Barbour. More than 40 Democrats joined Barbour, chairman of Mississippi’s Bush-Cheney ‘04 campaign, including former Congressman Sonny Montgomery, Transportation Commissioners Bill Minor and Wayne Brown, and state lawmakers, in support of Bush’s reelection efforts.

“Well over 100 people showed up, and we distributed quite a bit of literature,” said Herring. “We’re confident we’ll do well in Mississippi, but we’re not taking anything for granted.”

On a typically hectic day earlier this month, Herring traveled to Southaven while Dowdy headed to Raleigh, both chatting nonstop on cell phones to reporters and staffers, pausing only when their signals were out of range on rural byways.

“I’m going somewhere practically every night to different places in the state, where different county committees are holding rallies and organizational meetings,” said Dowdy. “Our county committees are excited and active. I’m new on the job, and I’m surprised to see this level of excitement in Mississippi for a national Democratic ticket.”

For the most part, the major fundraising events are over. By the end of August, Bush had raised $818,000 in Mississippi, compared to Kerry’s $600,000.

“Even though there are no more formal fundraisers, I’m sure the hat will be passed at events,” said Dowdy. “… we held a fundraiser attended by Elizabeth Edwards, Sen. John Edwards’ wife. Under the leadership of Crymes Pittman, an attorney in Jackson, more than $200,000 was raised at that event.”

They’re monitoring a frenzy of last-minute mail-outs, but aren’t putting up quite as many signs this time.

“Campaigns are getting away from signs a little bit,” said Herring. “There’s more person-to-person involvement.”

Both parties are closely watching the election commissioner races. (Before he was elected governor in 1991, the only elected position held by the late Kirk Fordice was Warren County election commissioner.)

“We have less than 100 Republican election commissioners scattered around the state in 82 counties, and they set the ballots, usually putting Democrats on top,” said Herring. “In my home county of Madison, we have three Republican election commissioners, but they elected a Democrat to chair the commission.”

David Blount, spokesperson for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, confirmed that the majority of each county’s five-member commission generally approves ballots, but the election commission chairperson may arbitrarily decide how it will look. The Secretary of State’s Office does not have to approve ballots before they are printed.

“In judicial elections, which are non-partisan, the names are listed in alphabetical order,” he said. “Otherwise, there must be some sort of established consistent policy.”
Dowdy said there “are focused, concentrated efforts in a number of counties” by the Democratic Party to see more Democratic election commissioners elected.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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