Few Democrats announcing run for office

By Shelia Byrd / The Associated Press

Candidates are lining up to run for statewide office in Mississippi, but the list of Democrats is thin.

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Clarksdale attorney and businessman Bill Luckett have filed to run for governor. And, it’s a given Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood is seeking a third term in his job.

But those three are the only serious Democratic names being bandied for statewide office at this time.

On the other hand, numerous Republicans are throwing their hats in the ring.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is running for governor, leaving his current position wide open. Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis is running for governor as a Republican, as is James Broadwater, who’s been a state employee.

Republican Sen. Billy Hewes, an insurance agent and real estate broker from Gulfport, is running for lieutenant governor. Republican State Auditor Stacy Pickering is seeking re-election. And, Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson has announced his bid for the GOP nomination for attorney general.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and state Treasurer Tate Reeves haven’t announced their plans. It’s widely believed Reeves will run for lieutenant governor. Hosemann is mum on whether he’s seeking re-election or another statewide job.

Sen. Lee Yancey, a Republican from Brandon, is running for treasurer. State Personnel Board executive director Lynn Fitch is gearing up for the treasurer’s race. Lucien Smith, a former staff attorney for Gov. Haley Barbour, has also raised money and is seen as a potential candidate.

Statewide candidates have until March 1 to file their qualifying papers.

Some contend the political climate in Mississippi could make it difficult for Democrats to get elected. Part of the blame can be laid at the feet of the Democrats themselves.

Will Rogers once said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” That’s apt phrasing for Mississippi. Few would argue the state party lacks organization, and it’s been beset by infighting in the past.

Brad Chism, a Democratic strategist with a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., said there could be more movement on the Democratic front as the qualifying deadline nears.

“These are difficult times because of the cost of the election, and the lack of party infrastructure,” Chism said.

“People thinking about running for treasurer, secretary of state or other offices look first at their political strength and weaknesses,” Chism said. “They also look at the financial reality of the race, and that has a chilling effect for Democrats in Mississippi, which is not an affluent state and many of the traditional sources of revenue for Democratic candidates aren’t plentiful.”

In addition, Republicans have been able to effectively paint Democrats — regardless of philosophy — as liberals. Capitol Hill Blue Dog Democrats have tried to distance themselves from those labels, but it hasn’t always worked. Last November, U.S. Reps. Gene Taylor and Travis Childers tried to promote their conservative values as they campaigned against Republicans who tied them to Washington Democratic policy decisions. Both lost their jobs.

It wasn’t that long ago that nearly every statewide office was held by a Democrat. In the early 2000s, Ronnie Musgrove was governor, Mike Moore was attorney general, Eric Clark was secretary of state, Marshall Bennett was treasurer, George Dale was insurance commissioner and Lester Spell was serving as a Democrat as agriculture commissioner. Spell is now a Republican and he’s not seeking re-election.

Mississippi House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, a seasoned Democratic lawmaker from Jackson, concedes the party hasn’t been good at recruiting candidates this election cycle. “But,” he said, “that’s because we haven’t had to in the past.”