Quiet campaign could affect turnout

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Almost 150,500 fewer Mississippians voted in the 2007 general election compared to the turnout in 2003.
Whether Tuesday’s turnout is closer to the record level of 2003 or to the more conventional total of 2007 could have an impact on the outcome of key races, such as whether Democrats hold the Mississippi House or Republicans capture the chamber for the first time since the 1800s.
Polls statewide open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
By 2003, and even by 2007 standards, this year’s gubernatorial election has been low-key. Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, a Democrat and the first black nominee of a major party, has run a purely grassroots campaign, eschewing costly television advertisements and depending on volunteers, news coverage and word of mouth to get his message out.
Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, the favorite to win Tuesday, has run a more modern-day campaign complete with multi-media advertising. Based on Tuesday’s campaign finance reports filed with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Bryant had outspent DuPree by nearly $5 million. Bryant had spent $5.6 million, according to Tuesday’s report.
DuPree, though, did go into the final week of the campaign with more than $350,000 in cash on hand – still about one-half less than Bryant, but enough to perhaps give him a boost.
DuPree said recently, “At the end of the day, who raised the most money will not matter. There will be two names on the ballot for governor, and the only numbers that will matter will be the votes cast. I’m excited about our chances.”
Perhaps concerned about the quietness of the campaign and potential for low voter turnout, which some believe could hurt Republicans, Bryant has been holding get out the vote rallies with well-known national Republicans, including outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, former Arkansas governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. And Republicans have been trying to make the election about Democratic President Barack Obama, who is generally unpopular in Mississippi.
“Ending the Barack Obama presidency doesn’t have to wait until 2012,” said an ad from the state Republican Party. “The race to stop Obama starts right here, right now, in Mississippi. On Nov. 8, let your voices be heard.”
Even the media coverage, compared to the past two elections, has been less, perhaps in part because of the two candidates’ reluctance to attack each other.
Of course, governor is not the only race on Tuesday’s ballot. Mississippians will vote on statewide, legislative, districtwide and county races.
The most contentious race has been for the office of attorney general, where Republican Steve Simpson, former commissioner of public safety, is challenging incumbent Jim Hood, the only statewide elected Democrat.
They have run an aggressive campaign. In ads, Simpson has attacked Hood for not joining in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the national health care law. Hood has attacked Simpson for having a tax lien placed on his home while at the same time purchasing a new boat and for taking a recreational vehicle to a car race where it was wrecked.
Perhaps the most anticipated outcome will be legislative races and whether Republicans can gain a majority in the state House for the first time since the 1800s.
Three citizen-sponsored initiatives also will be on the ballot. They would define life as beginning at fertilization, require people to have a photo identification to vote and prevent the taking of private land for the use of another private entity.
In recent weeks, the initiative defining personhood at conception has received more attention than any other ballot measure.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com