LLOYD GRAY: Senate race a campaign of rarities

By Lloyd Gray / NEMS Daily Journal

Two political rarities distinguished the just-completed special election campaign for the state Senate District 6 seat.
First was the impressive showing of Nancy Adams Collins in defeating five opponents in the first round. That it was close to being a runoff and ultimately not decided until a count of affidavit ballots the morning after the election overshadowed the rather stunning no-runoff outcome.
Lee County Circuit Clerk Joyce Loftin said she couldn’t remember the last time a race with that many candidates didn’t require a runoff. A runoff in the Senate election was an almost automatic assumption for close followers of local politics.
These weren’t pushover opponents for Collins, either. Second-place finisher Doug Wright of Saltillo is a well-known businessman in the area and had ample funding for his campaign. Two other candidates, Tupelo City Councilmen Mike Bryan and Jonny Davis, are experienced campaigners and election winners. Tupelo businesswoman Melony Armstrong and school teacher Stacy Scott of Sherman were articulate, engaging candidates.
So that made Collins’ accomplishment in her first campaign for elective office particularly impressive, owed in large measure to her long record of community activism on behalf of causes like Sanctuary Hospice House.
But as unusual and impressive as Tuesday’s election outcome was, the weeks leading up to it offered an even more distinct political experience. It was a clean, civil, even cordial campaign – a true rarity in this day of slash-and-burn, anything-goes political discourse.
The candidates treated each other with respect, both in their joint appearances and in their campaign advertising. All the candidates stressed the personal characteristics, experience and background they said uniquely qualified them to serve. They made no bones that they thought they were better suited for the office than the others, but they did so without personal attacks on their opponents.
Granted, there were few differences on political philosophy and issue positions among the six candidates. All presented themselves as fiscally and socially conservative political thinkers, and all were in general agreement on the importance of strong public schools.
This was a special election as well, non-partisan in the sense that candidates all ran on the same ballot without party affiliation, though four of the six identified themselves as Republicans and two as independents. No state or national level party apparatus inserted itself into this race, which is often where the campaign nastiness starts.
But sometimes races where there’s little difference among the candidates on the issues turn nasty because the candidates feel they have to find an edge somewhere, and personal attacks on an opponent have increasingly become the accepted pattern. And yes, it can and does happen in local elections.
Happily, it didn’t in this admittedly brief election campaign. All the candidates acquitted themselves well in running campaigns that emphasized what they had to offer voters, and Wright made a point of thanking Collins in his concession phone call for a “clean” campaign.
Maybe this will start a new trend. We’re at the dawn of the busiest election year Mississippians regularly experience, with quadrennial elections for governor down to constable and every state, district and county office in between.
The political professionals running the top tier campaigns no doubt are ready and expecting to eventually have to get into attack mode – not in the sense of vigorous debate on the issues but in casting doubt on the personal character and integrity of the opposition. They believe negative campaigning works, or they would have stopped doing it long ago.
Undoubtedly there will be some who look at the Senate District 6 race and say that its placidity produced a single candidate’s surge that eliminated the need for a runoff, and that if one or the other candidates had taken out after Collins, the frontrunner, they might have produced a closer, more competitive race.
Could be. But it says something good about the other candidates that they didn’t, something that most voters will remember and take into account the next time any of them run for office. They’re honorable people, and they acted like it.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.