By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — The Democratic National Committee chairwoman campaigned Thursday in Jackson for the party’s nominee for Mississippi governor, saying Johnny DuPree will work to improve health care in a state where many are uninsured.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, leader of the DNC since May, appeared in Mississippi two and a half weeks before the Nov. 8 general election.
DuPree, the third-term mayor of Hattiesburg, has been outspent nearly 7-to-1 by the Republican nominee for governor, first-term Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant of Brandon. They’re competing to succeed Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who couldn’t seek a third term.
Although Mississippi Democrats frequently try to distance themselves from the national Democratic Party, DuPree said Thursday that he’s proud to have help from Wasserman Schultz.
“It’s not every day you get the chairman of the Democratic Party to come to our state,” DuPree said. “I know the media said that normally Democrats don’t ask or don’t accept other Democrats from other places to come. But you know, this is a different campaign…. The Democratic Party accepts everybody because of who are. That’s what America is.”
Wasserman Schultz made several appearances Thursday, including speaking to about 150 people at a “Women for DuPree” rally that doubled as a breast cancer awareness event at Millsaps College.
She was scheduled later Thursday to attend a Mississippi Democratic Party fundraiser and to speak at a jobs rally for DuPree at the Jackson Convention Center.
“As governor, Johnny DuPree will work to develop a comprehensive health plan that addresses not just health care and insurance but promotes healthier lifestyles,” Wasserman Schultz said at the women’s rally. “He’ll create the Mississippi Council on Healthy Living to work with local communities to integrate health lifestyle initiatives into their policies and streamline costs and red tape so that doctors and patients can get back to basics and focus on care.”
The 45-year-old DNC leader is a breast cancer survivor, as is DuPree’s wife, Johniece.
“We all know that fighting breast cancer is not a partisan issue,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Democrats, Republicans and independents from all corners of our great nation should come together to end this deadly disease.”
Still, Wasserman Schultz said the 2010 federal health care overhaul, which was opposed by Republicans, includes provisions to help breast cancer patients, including those that would block insurers from dropping coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
DuPree has said he generally supports the federal health care law, though he believes parts of it need to be tweaked.
Bryant frequently criticizes the law, saying it will hurt the state budget by adding tens of thousands of people to Mississippi’s Medicaid rolls.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus of Wisconsin issued a news release in advance of Wasserman Schultz’s appearance, saying Democrats’ policies “created an economic disaster for Mississippians and families all across the country.”
“From unaccountable stimulus spending to job-killing regulations, the Democrats’ agenda is the single biggest roadblock to job creation,” Priebus said. “Debbie Wasserman Schultz may try to deny it, but Americans deserve better.”
Bryant has also received campaign help from national Republican figures. The head of the Republican Governors Association, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, appeared last week at a Bryant fundraiser in downtown Jackson, where suggested donations were $1,000 to $25,000.
The Republican Governors Association has contributed $250,000 to Bryant’s campaign.
The Democratic Governors Association has given $92,000 to DuPree’s campaign.
Finance reports filed Oct. 10 show Bryant has spent nearly $4.2 million and DuPree has spent $610,830.