When something like this happens, one can have too much fun thinking of titles for an op-ed piece:
“Fifty shades of Robert Gray.” Okay, perhaps, too easy, but cute with a hint of sexy.
“The ‘Silent Knight’ rises to top Democratic ticket.” Gray’s CB radio handle.
“The Democratic Party in Mississippi: Not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.” Oh, let’s start there and then talk about the craziest thing to happen in Mississippi politics. Maybe ever!
Poor Democrats. I have referred to the Democratic Party in Mississippi as a “dumpster fire.” That was wrong. A dumpster fire would suggest activity. Instead, the Democratic Party in Mississippi is a nuclear wasteland.
A few folks are doing yeoman’s work, desperate to keep up a facade through social media. While more Mississippians may have voted in the Democrat primary than Republican primary, that was a result of contested local races where Republicans switched sides. Hear that, Chris McDaniel?
Democrats can’t raise money. If you put together all of the money Democratic candidates running for our state legislature have raised for their campaigns, their total is not much more than $500,000. By contrast, GOP legislative candidates have raised over $4 million.
“It has much to do with how districts have been gerrymandered over the years,” said political strategist, Robert Hooks, “Emotionally political parties in Mississippi are not Republican or Democrat. They are cut in an almost buffoonish way between blacks and whites.”
The standard bearer and probably the wealthiest Democrat in our state is 2nd Congressional District Representative, Bennie Thompson. Wielding enormous power and influence, Thompson is the last standing old southern-style political boss. He has done little to help bring whites and blacks together and has been accused of crushing forward-thinking progressive candidates in the Democratic party, both white and black.
Integration may have created the nuclear wasteland, but even in places like Chernobyl, life finds a way of returning.
Enter the Silent Knight, Robert Gray. A soft spoken, humble Every Man who honestly believes Mississippi can be better. He may or may not be in favor of Initiative 48. When the MBJ asked Mr. Gray if he currently or has ever smoked pot, his answer was “No.”
For those who cotton to slick politicians, Gray may not be polished. He may be more interested in legalizing hemp than cutting taxes, but nobody is trying to put lipstick on a pig here. Robert Gray is legit, he understands issues and policy. He understands the need to create jobs in Mississippi, which is why he favors Medicaid expansion and likely favors Initiative 48. He is not a politician. He’s not a lawyer. He’s no Donald Trump.
He’s a regular guy. A real regular guy. Robert Gray gives those Mississippians who complain about career politicians a chance to pull the lever for someone who is not a career politician. Do they dare?
Rickey Cole, chairman of Mississippi’s Democratic Party, calls Robert Gray a “citizen governor.” Cole says Gray has a lifetime of “real world” experience to prepare him. Gray’s got opinions on education: he supports MAEP. He’s called for a state lottery to help raise revenue.
When it comes to our state flag, Gray says it hurts the state economically, “The people that want it, can wave it all they want,” Gray said, “but it can’t be our state flag. It’s bad for business.”
Gray thinks Gov. Bryant is also bad for business. That’s why he decided to run. “I know I can do a better job than the guy we got now. We have got to get jobs here. We need to get our young men and women working. We don’t need to raise taxes. We need more people paying taxes.”
If Gray comes out in favor of Initiative 48, he could win over libertarians, independents, and those pot-smoking Republicans, at least the ones who aren’t so paranoid.
So what if Gray was a no name before he won? He’s not now. The reality is no one knew the supposed Democratic front-runner, Vicki Slater, outside of a group of Jackson trial lawyers and her social media friends.
State Rep. John Hines thinks Slater and Valerie Short ran poor primary campaigns. “I can imagine how terrible Slater feels, but her name recognition was weak.”
Hines believes Gray being first on the ballot may have helped, but “that doesn’t explain the huge difference. He just won by too many votes for that.”
There had to have been some buzz about Gray somewhere. There may have been an under-the-radar buzz by the Initiative 48 cannabis crew.
“Pot-smoking Gray Dog Democrats Beam up a Candidate for Governor!” There’s another good title.
or, “Pot smokers unite — Gray is on the way.”
Some have suggested sexism played a part in Gray’s selection as the nominee. Hines suggested it was “likely more an anti-Hillary Clinton vote than a vote against Slater, Short, or women in general.” So if Slater and Short were Hillary by proxy, does that make Gray Bernie Sanders?
Slater, who was supposed to win convincingly, did little to distinguish herself. Hinds concluded, “Honestly, if Slater had political consultants she should demand her money back.”
Robert Hooks believes Mississippi Democrat candidates are susceptible to poor consulting or worse. “The party is not strong enough to protect candidates from unscrupulous political consultants.” Hook said. “There is actually a science to political campaigns. You have to have solid polling data and a ground game.”
“Candidates are in the weeds,” Hooks said, “That’s why you need strong people, consultants and a team you can trust.”
Hooks believes Slater’s losing could end up being a blessing for Democrats. Democrats can get money likely wasted on a Governor’s race into Mississippi House races. There are over 20 competitive races this year. The GOP has an advantage in all but a few of them, but the Democrats are in a position to gain seats.
It all boils down to money. As Hooks pointed out, “If you are going to run for state wide office, you have to have money in place so that you are not a ghost.”
Otherwise you may be beaten by a ghost like Robert Gray, who spent nothing on his campaign. Nothing. Slater had raised less than $400,000 and was, no doubt, holding on to as much of it as possible for the general election against Phil Bryant’s millions. A terrible mistake.
Gray told the MBJ he was “really impressed” with Slater and Short and, even though he was busy with work on election day, it played a part in his decision not to vote in the primary.
“You see, I was prepared to win, but I have to say that my opponents were professional women and you could tell they both wanted to do the best for the State that they could.” Gray said. “They were passionate.”
“For me,” he went on, “it wasn’t really a do-or-die situation. It was just win or lose and I was prepared for either. Honestly, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to vote for myself. I vote most every election, but I just couldn’t bring myself to vote against either Mrs. Slater or Mrs. Short. That’s how it was.”
» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.
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