Dems begin runoff; Bryant pauses

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Of the three major party candidates left standing in the gubernatorial campaign, Democrat Bill Luckett was the first to get back to politicking.
A day after Tuesday’s party primary elections, Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney and businessman, campaigned at a popular Jackson restaurant and grocery store in a potential Democratic stronghold.
Luckett finished second in the Democratic primary, but forced an Aug. 23 runoff because the top vote-getter, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, did not garner a majority.
The big winner Tuesday night, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who won the Republican primary with a convincing 59 percent of the vote and who will be considered the front-runner in November against DuPree or Luckett, kept a low profile on Wednesday.
Quinton Dickerson, a Bryant spokesman, said Wednesday was devoted to “internal campaign meetings.”
In a statement, Bryant said, “We have a long way to go until Nov. 8, so now is the time to unite and come together with everyone who shares conservative values of less government and more freedom. I’m asking all conservatives – Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party and independents – to join my campaign.”
DuPree, who was the top vote-getter of all the gubernatorial candidates, said in a statement, “I firmly believe that we are ahead because our message is resonating with the voters. We have put forth a concrete plan to restructure education in Mississippi. We have illustrated our ability to create jobs (as mayor of Hattiesburg) in tough times and shown how we can do the same thing for all of Mississippi. And we have said that we will fight for fair taxes and affordable health care for everyone, not just the privileged few.”
DuPree captured more than 170,000 votes, or 43 percent of the total, in the Democratic primary, compared to 39 percent for Luckett.
Before the election, Democratic strategist Jere Nash, chief of staff to former Gov. Ray Mabus, said the better financed Luckett was running an “over-the-air” campaign while DuPree was focusing more on putting resources into a “ground game” to get voters to the polls on Tuesday.
DuPree’s strategy worked Tuesday. But Luckett sounds like a candidate who is not deterred.
Luckett, who has opened several businesses in his hometown of Clarksdale, said, “I have the hands-on experience to take this fight to Phil Bryant… I tip my hat to Phil for winning the primary, but he’d be a disaster for the people of Mississippi. We can and must do better. Phil’s been a politician and living off the taxpayer so long, he’s lost touch with what Mississippians are going through.”
On the other hand, Luckett in his speech Tuesday offered nothing but praise for his first obstacle – DuPree in the Democratic primary. Luckett said of DuPree, “He loves Mississippi as I do and is a powerful agent for decency and change in our state.”
Back on the Republican side, Gulfport businessman Dave Dennis, a political novice, who finished a disappointing second with 26 percent of the vote, also was quiet Wednesday.
Campaign Manager Brian Perry said, “We’re spending the next few days thanking supporters, closing down the campaign, picking up signs, and resting after nearly two years on the campaign trail. There will be discussions with Phil Bryant’s campaign in coming days.”
In most cases in Mississippi, the losing Republican candidate has endorsed the winner to reunite the party before the November general election.
RECORD FOR GOP
Republicans saw a record turnout in their primary with more than 281,000 participating based on nearly complete returns. Some had predicted that this year more people would vote in the Republican than Democratic primary. But based on those as-yet-to-be complete returns, more than 392,000 voted on the Democratic side.
In 2007, more than 197,000 voted in the Republican primary, compared to more than 446,000 on the Democratic side.
In Lee County, far more people – 12,133 versus 4,977 – voted in the Republican primary for governor than in the Democratic race. That represented a dramatic change from four years ago, when the total was 11,903 for the Democrats and 2,809 for the Republicans.
But in surrounding Northeast Mississippi counties, just the opposite was true. The vote was overwhelmingly Democratic in counties like Itawamba, Monroe, Pontotoc and Union – as high as 8-1 in some cases. Most contested local races in those counties were in the Democratic primary.
In the governor’s race, Bryant handily carried all 16 Northeast Mississippi counties in the Republican race while Luckett carried every county except Lee on the Democratic side.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com