By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Don’t call them long shots, at least not in their presence.
Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker say a steady diet of GOP politics has left a bad taste in the mouths of Mississippi voters.
The state might swing red, but Brad Morris and Al Gore Jr. want to offer a political palate cleansing in blue come November.
“I think we’re in an election year when people are taking a hard look at things, and they’re feeling left out,” said Morris, an Oxford attorney and former chief of staff to then-U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss.
The 37-year-old wants to win back the 1st District congressional seat that his prior boss lost to Nunnelee two years ago. But he said revenge has nothing to do with it.
“I’m convinced that now is the time to stand up and speak out on these issues that affect middle-class and working families,” Morris said during an interview with the Daily Journal on Thursday. “When we don’t challenge these notions that politicians are pushing in our public sphere, people start to think that it’s just true. It doesn’t make it true, it just makes it unchallenged.”
A longtime Democrat, Morris styles his campaign as a fight for the average citizen: No more favoritism for the wealthy, for the corporations, for the lobbyists or for the politicians’ own self interest. Just good ol’ fashion government for the working man.
Gore offers the same message in his bid to unseat Wicker. But the 81-year-old retired Methodist minister and decorated military veteran delivers his campaign promise with a punchier panache.
“I’m going to clean his plow,” Gore says of his established political opponent.
And he’s quite serious, despite a lack of funds in the kind of statewide race requiring millions of dollars to win. Wicker already has raised $2.1 million; Gore said he has received a few contributions from friends.
To match Wicker’s war chest “I’d have to sell my soul, and I’m not going to do it,” Gore said in an interview with the Daily Journal on Thursday. “I’m not going after the big PACs. I’m operating off my own money.”
He’s also drawing on his Army background to establish a statewide political operation reminiscent in its tactical intelligence to the campaigns he coordinated in Vietnam. But he doesn’t want to reveal too much about that.
Morris, too, feels confident about his chances of a win, despite serious financial challenges. The average successful U.S. House race costs $1.5 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. Nunnelee has raised nearly $900,000 so far; Morris has just $40,900 – of which $30,050 was a self loan.
“I don’t have to outspend him,” said Morris of Nunnelee. “I have to be able to spend enough. I need to tell people who I am, why I’m running, the issues we stand for. We’ll be able to do that. It’s still very early.”
Morris ran unopposed in the congressional primary but has wasted little time organizing his campaign. He has a political director, a professional website, concise issue statements and a long-term strategy to reach every voter in the district.
This isn’t his first rodeo. Morris ran the 2007 secretary of state campaign for Democratic candidate John Windsor, who lost in the primary, then went on to lead Childers’ successful bid for the U.S. House.
Morris also entered the District 5 state Senate race as a candidate a decade ago but dropped out because of district line changes. At the time he lived in Dorsey, where he’d grown up with his grandparents before attending and graduating from George Washington University. He also earned several degrees from the University of Mississippi.
Gore picked up a few degrees of his own. He graduated with a bachelor’s from Millsaps College and has a master’s from the School of Divinity at Duke University. Three years after Duke, Gore entered the Army as a chaplain but saw action in Vietnam and was recognized with a Purple Heart for catching shrapnel during a mortar attack.
He eventually returned to civilian life but continued to work as a Methodist minister until eventually retiring to focus on his aging family and his hybrid rose bushes.
Although this is Gore’s first political race, he has chaired the Executive Committee of the Oktibbeha County Democratic Party for many years and said he has many more left to serve. He defended his decision to seek office at what many would consider an elderly age.
“Thirty-five of the senators that are up there now are over 70 years old,” he said. “Fifteen of them are over 80.”
According to Wikipedia, the U.S. Senate has 26 septuagenarians and three octogenarians. Gore, who beat two challengers in the March primaries, would be the fourth eldest if elected in November.
And, no, he’s not closely related to the former U.S. vice president with the same name.
“He’s distantly kin,” Gore said, explaining that they’re likely descendants of the same ancestral tree.
Voters unfamiliar with the Democratic congressional candidates likely will have an opportunity to meet them soon. Both said they’ll amp up their campaigns as the Nov. 6 election day looms. In addition to their incumbent rivals, the challengers also face minor-party candidates in the general race.
“I’m going to spend the next eight months,” Morris said, “focused on and discussing a series of issues and policies that I think offer real solutions to protect this middle class that’s key to America.”