By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Johnny DuPree, who likes to talk about a work ethic instilled by his first job delivering his hometown newspaper at age 8, on Tuesday became the first African-American since the 19th century to be nominated by a major party for governor of Mississippi.
DuPree, 57, the third-term mayor of Hattiesburg, defeated Clarksdale businessman and attorney Bill Luckett in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff election. Late Tuesday, DuPree had garnered 163,336 votes or 55 percent to Luckett’s 134,254 or 45 percent with 98 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.
DuPree will face Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, the Republican nominee, in the Nov. 8 general election. An independent, Will Oatis of Silver Creek, will also be in the race.
Luckett immediately endorsed DuPree, saying he “can lead us into the future.”
The Democratic runoff was forced because neither candidate captured a majority of the vote in the Aug. 2 first primary. DuPree, who spent about $500,000 less than Luckett, relied on his word-of-mouth campaign and apparent strong support among black voters to win the history-making race.
Throughout the campaign, DuPree argued his public and private experience makes him uniquely qualified for the post. He served on the Hattiesburg School Board and Forrest County Board of Supervisors before being elected mayor.
He said he has attracted jobs to Hattiesburg, 2,000 over a two-year span, while cutting the city budget and adding services through innovations.
The son of a single mother, DuPree, who owned a real estate company, said he learned the value of hard work as a young newspaper carrier. DuPree’s mother, Hattie, was at his victory party Tuesday night in his hometown.
During the campaign, DuPree never talked about the significance of his campaign as an African-American for governor, but instead focused on his record as mayor and issues – particularly education and jobs.
Late Tuesday, DuPree said he is proud to be African-American, but “I want to highlight I have the experience we need in Mississippi to move forward.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a prepared statement Tuesday night, “The Democratic Governors Association congratulates Mayor Dupree on his historic victory tonight. He has helped move Mississippi forward. … We look forward to working with his campaign and Mississippi Democrats in the coming months.”
Also late Tuesday, Luckett released a statement saying, “I have come to know Mayor DuPree well. I regard him as a friend and someone who loves this great state as I do. He has showcased his leadership credentials. … Mayor DuPree can lead us into the future.
“He is a fellow Mississippian who deserves and has earned my support and he’s got it. Tonight, we stand with Mayor DuPree as he launches his campaign for governor of Mississippi.”
The Democratic nominee will be a decided underdog in the Nov. 8 general election against Phil Bryant, who won the Republican primary on Aug. 2 with an impressive 59 percent of the vote.
Bryant is expected to have a strong fund-raising advantage against the Democratic nominee in the race to replace Republican Haley Barbour, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Bryant, who served in the state House and was elected to two terms as auditor before capturing the lieutenant governor’s post in 2007, has run as a fiscal and social conservative. He also has aligned himself closely with Barbour, though the outgoing governor did not endorse a candidate in the Republican primary.
He is expected to endorse Bryant in the coming days.
Luckett, 63, is probably best known for his business relationship with Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, with whom he partnered to restore downtown Clarksdale buildings into a blues club and upscale restaurant to help revitalize the Delta town.
He touted, “I can do the same for the entire state.”
Luckett spent the final week of the campaign living in Tupelo and venturing out to campaign events throughout Northeast Mississippi. He said he opted to focus on the region because he did well there on Aug. 2, and there were numerous runoffs in local races that would entice people who supported him to come back to the polls.
It appeared late Tuesday that Luckett did well in Northeast Mississippi, except for Lee County which was won easily by DuPree, but DuPree’s strong showing in south and central Mississippi, particularly in populous Hinds and his home county of Forrest, proved too much of an advantage for Luckett to make up.