By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, the top vote-getter in the Aug. 2 primaries, concedes on the issues there is not much difference between him and his opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff, Clarksdale attorney and businessman Bill Luckett.
“We all have been talking about pretty much the same thing,” DuPree said last week between campaign stops. “We might get there a different way.”
But, “We’re all in this for the right reasons. I think we all want to make Mississippi a better place.”
Luckett, 63, and DuPree, 57, agree on the issues, but disagree on the importance of qualifications – at least on who is more qualified. Luckett, who highlights he is the only non-politician left in the race, says he believes he can approach the state’s woes in a fresh and innovative way.
“We don’t have a lot of difference on the issues,” agreed Luckett, saying background is the main difference “He has been a supervisor several terms and a mayor for several terms. Now he wants to run for another office.
“… When I talk about creating jobs, I am talking about doing it with my own money, with my own sweat, I am talking about what I have done personally.”
DuPree, on the other hand, believes his private sector experience, for a national retail chain and later as owner of his own real estate company, coupled with time on the Hattiesburg School Board, Forrest County Board of Supervisors and 10 years as the mayor of Hattiesburg make him the best candidate.
He said he knows the process and has built the personal relationships with legislators needed to get things done on a statewide level.
People who vote in the Democratic primary can decide between the two candidates during Tuesday’s runoff election. The runoff is needed because neither candidate garnered a majority vote during the Democratic primary on Aug 2.
DuPree, captured more than 171,000 votes or 43 percent to 39 percent for Luckett. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant won the Republican primary outright with more than 167,000 votes or 59 percent of the total. He advances to the Nov. 8 general election to face the winner of Tuesday’s Luckett-DuPree tilt.
They are vying to replace Republican Haley Barbour, who because of term limits cannot run for re-election.
DuPree, who has spent about $500,000 less than Luckett, said he has continued the grassroots campaign that helped him to be the top vote-getter on Aug. 2. He was able to run television spots in the Jackson market before the Aug. 2 primary, but relied primarily on a word-of-mouth campaign. He believes that grassroots campaign will prevail on Tuesday.
On his website is a video where the candidates asks supporters to talk to neighbors, fellow church members and to call 10 additional people about voting for DuPree.
“We feel good,” DuPree said. “We are still doing the same things that we have done for the past year.”
DuPree said he has spent his time between areas where he performed well on Aug. 2, such as the Jackson area and south Mississippi, and areas in north Mississippi where he trailed Luckett.
DuPree cites his record of bringing jobs to Hattiesburg and of reducing the city budget while increasing services through innovation.
He also highlights his education plan, which includes, among other things, exempting teachers from having to pay the state income tax.
If he wins Tuesday, he would be the first African-American to be the nominee of a major party for the office of governor since the 19th century.
Luckett, along with friend and business partner Morgan Freeman, a Mississippi-born Academy Award-winning actor, has revitalized Clarksdale as an entertainment destination. He says he can create a similar revitalization statewide.
He has spent the final days of the campaign in Northeast Mississippi – an area where he did well on Aug. 2. He arrived in Northeast Mississippi early last week and said, “I am not going home until Aug. 23 in time to vote.”
Luckett said his campaign has been buoyed by the reception he has received in Northeast Mississippi and by the recent, some say surprising, endorsement by the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees.
Luckett said he believes he received the endorsement because he has been an outspoken advocate of protecting the public employee retirement system that covers state and local employees, including school personnel.
Luckett said the benefits promised to public employees is a contract, and “I don’t believe you change the rules.”
In recent days, Luckett has unveiled his plan to revitalize rural Mississippi.
His proposal includes providing rural areas aid with infrastructure, from roads to the internet; business development aid, from loans to counseling; and assistance with tourism development.
“I am sick and tired of people being in politics and not getting the job done,” Luckett said.