By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press
With the passing of the qualifying deadline, Mississippi Republicans are fielding a full slate of candidates for statewide office, just as they have in election cycles dating back to 2003.
Democrats dominated the state political scene for generations, but are fielding candidates this year in only five statewide races.
Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Jamie Franks says his party is rebuilding. Republican Party chairman Arnie Hederman says the GOP is the party of opportunity and growth.
History shows the GOP has generally fielded a growing number of candidates dating back to 1983. Republicans used to joke that their loyalists – including future governors Kirk Fordice and Haley Barbour – could all fit in a telephone booth.
Now, aside from the fact that phone booths are relics, no small structure could hold the growing ranks of the state GOP. This does not bode well for the Democratic Party.
Jere Nash, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant, said it’s all about money.
“It is not that the Democrats do not have people who would make good candidates and good public servants. There is just not enough money available to them any longer in Mississippi to pay for a competitive campaign,” Nash said.
Part of the reason, Nash said, is because limits on lawsuit awards separated Democratic candidates from sources of money in the business community that previously had been available to them.
“Back in the days when William Winter and Ray Mabus and Dick Molpus and Ronnie Musgrove’s first race, all of them could raise money from health care professionals, businesses, business executives and so forth, and finance a campaign,” Nash said. “That is no longer the case.”
Nash said the tort reform debate in the late 1990s and early 2000s made it clear to national Democratic contributors and organizations that Mississippi was practically a lost cause for electing many Democrats to federal office, and certainly for delivering Mississippi’s electoral votes to a Democratic presidential nominee.
“So, why should national funders give money to Democrats in Mississippi when, in their view, there is no long-term political gain? So, the national money is drying up at the same time Mississippi money is drying up,” Nash said.
Nash said Mabus got elected state auditor in 1983 by spending $150,000 in two races.
“It takes a million dollars now to be competitive statewide,” he said.
First-term state Auditor Stacey Pickering, who has only token opposition this fall from a Reform Party candidate, told members of the Mississippi Federation of Republican Women this past week that a Republican wave was sweeping the nation and Mississippi.
“The Mississippi Republican Party is organized,” Pickering said. “We are organized, and we saw what happened last year across the nation when conservatives organized at the county level, at the precinct level, when that wave swept across our nation and we sent two new Republicans to Washington, D.C. – Alan Nunnelee in the 1st and Steven Palazzo in the 4th.
“Waves do not skip states, and that wave will continue as we head into August and head into November and we will elect a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, a Republican majority in the Senate and maintain our leadership statewide in the Republican Party,” Pickering said.
Outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell got big applause for this line: “The first time I ran, I was a Democrat but I saw the light and came to the Republican Party. I want to be remembered as the last Democrat who was ever elected commissioner of agriculture in the state of Mississippi.”