By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The same day a Republican Tupelo city councilman endorsed Democrat Jason Shelton for mayor, the state GOP chairman accused him of being a “bait and switch conservative.”
Shelton, a Tupelo native and attorney, has tried to position himself as the fiscal conservative in the mayor’s race against City Council President Fred Pitts, a longtime business owner.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr., a Republican, did not seek reelection.
While Pitts and other Republicans have tried to paint the Democrat as all talk when it comes to conservative policies, Republican Councilman Jim Newell endorsed Shelton Tuesday.
“I want to go on the record as being the most conservative member of the City Council,” Newell said. “Jason’s plan for Tupelo is more conservative than what Mr. Pitts is suggesting.”
Later in the day, state Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef attended a fundraiser for Pitts in north Tupelo, endorsing the businessman’s experience and leadership on the City Council.
However, Nosef had pointed comments for Shelton, who has donated thousands of dollars to political candidates such as former U.S. Congressman Travis Childers and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Nosef compared the Tupelo Democrat to John Arthur Eaves, a Democrat and attorney who ran a very conservative but unsuccessful campaign to unseat Gov. Haley Barbour in 2007.
“This is the same old bait and switch,” Nosef said of Shelton’s conservatism.
Tupelo is among key cities the GOP hopes to win in less than three weeks in the June 4 election. Other races the party is eyeing are in Meridian, Ocean Springs and Starkville. Nosef said the state party will try to help with volunteers and resources in these races.
Tupelo hasn’t elected a Democrat to the mayor’s office in three decades.
As the top issue in the mayor’s race, both Shelton and Pitts say retaining and attracting middle-class residents to the city remains key to the city’s future. However, both candidates seem unsure on the details.
After speaking at the Presley Heights Neighborhood Association on Tuesday evening, Shelton said he wears political attacks against him as a badge of honor.
“When a candidate can’t run on who they are and why they’re running, they have to distract the citizens from the issues that matter,” he said. “I’m running for mayor because I’m passionate about this city and want to live the rest of my life in a vibrant community that continues to be full of opportunity and has an excellent quality of life.”
Back at the fundraiser for Pitts, the Republican candidate acknowledged his opponent’s formidable campaign and welcomed state GOP help.
“This is a much closer race than we thought it was going to be,” he said.