By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The last time Mississippi Democrats went to bed on election eve thinking they might have a chance to hold or recapture the Governor’s Mansion was November 2003 at best.
That year, incumbent Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove ran a credible, well-financed campaign, but could not overcome the juggernaut that was the Haley Barbour money machine. In the end, that election was not as close as many thought it would be, with the Republican Barbour capturing 52.6 percent of the vote to 45.8 for Musgrove.
Still, it would not have been a complete shocker had Musgrove pulled off the upset.
In 2007, Jackson attorney John Arthur Eaves Jr., a political novice, challenged Barbour. And in 2011, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree made history by becoming the first African-American nominee for governor from a major political party, but nobody really believed he stood much of a chance against then-Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, just as nobody believed Eaves had even a puncher’s chance against the incumbent Barbour.
In both cases, they did not stand a chance and Democrats knew that.
In all honesty, Democrats did not have a candidate who could have seriously challenged the incumbent Barbour in 2007. The case might have been the same in 2011. It was an open seat where Democrats presumably would have had had a better shot, but in reality then-incumbent Lt. Gov. Bryant was well positioned to succeed Barbour.
But with all due respect to two well-meaning individuals, the two primary Democratic challengers, DuPree and Clarksdale attorney/businessman Bill Luckett, did not pose the biggest challenge to Bryant.
There was one person considering entering the 2011 governor’s race who would have at least put a little fear into Bryant – Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller Jr.
At one point early on, Waller, son of former Democratic Gov. Bill Waller, was eyeing a run for the post as a Democrat.
It is funny how politics can change .
Waller is now in the midst of a battle to maintain his Central District Supreme Court post where he is being challenged by state Rep. Earle Banks, D-Jackson.
In Mississippi, judicial elections are nonpartisan, but that does not mean the political parties cannot get involved and endorse candidates. Earlier this month, the state Republican Party endorsed Waller. The Democrats answered by endorsing Banks.
Of the three Supreme Court districts, the Central is by far the most Democratic.
Banks has served in the House since 1993 and has earned the reputation as a serious and competent legislator. He has every right to run for the Supreme Court and, no doubt, would serve with distinction there just as he has in the House.
The political parties have a 1st Amendment right to endorse whomever they want. Of course, they also have the right to remain silent on the issue since the candidates do not run as Republicans or Democrats. And in some judicial races, they are remaining silent.
No doubt, Republicans in Mississippi are on the rise. We can debate the reasons why, but the fact is that most white Mississippians vote Republican just as an overwhelming number of blacks vote Democratic. Right now there are a lot more whites than blacks in Mississippi.
To remain viable, the Democratic Party must field candidates who can garner a significant number of white votes.
Bill Waller Jr. has that potential. It is debatable whether he will ever run for an office other than Supreme Court justice. His flirtation with the 2011 gubernatorial campaign might have been a momentary thing never to be revisited.
But who knows for sure?
And who knows for sure how the Democratic Party’s endorsement of his opponent might impact his future – for the 2012 judicial election and beyond?
Bobby Harrison is the Capitol Bureau chief for the Daily Journal in Jackson. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.