SID SALTER: Bryant the early leader in governor’s race

By Sid Salter

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is expected to formally announce his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor and reveal some impressive fundraising numbers in the next few days.
Bryant enters 2011 as the leading contender among all the known probable contenders to succeed a term-limited Gov. Haley Barbour. But Bryant is expected to face a spirited GOP primary challenge from Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis, who has been running openly since the 2010 Neshoba County Fair, and Pearl River County Supervisor Hudson Holliday.
It’s early. A contentious legislative session looms. Mistakes are always there to be made. But make no mistake – Bryant is the man to beat in the 2011 Mississippi governor’s race.
Bryant’s GOP primary battle with Dennis and Holliday could coincide with a Democratic Party gubernatorial primary in which the vote becomes less about the candidates and more about the Dems’ internal politics.
Clarksdale attorney and businessman Bill Luckett, 62, has a campaign staff in place and has been actively working toward winning the Democratic nomination for more than a year. Luckett’s status as Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman’s friend and business partner has given Luckett’s campaign a boost and should put Luckett in good shape to raise the necessary cash to make the race.
Luckett is a veteran who was raised in Clarksdale and has a resume that includes experience in law, entrepreneurship and the renovation of several buildings in his hometown as a serious real estate developer.
His entertainment ventures, Madidi restaurant and Ground Zero Blues Club, are popular tourist attractions.
The Dupree factor
But Luckett’s head start could be trumped by Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, 57, who appears to be in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to win it.
In that scenario, Luckett’s ability to win a statewide Democratic primary will depend in great measure on where 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson decides to place his support and influence. Beyond that, there’s the broader question of race and its impact on a contested Democratic primary.
According to the most recent U.S. Census figures, African-Americans make up about 37.1 percent of Mississippi’s population – more than any other state. But the vast majority of that huge bloc of Mississippi’s population is believed to vote Democratic.
While Mississippi has the largest number of black elected officials in the U.S., no African-American has ever been able to get elected to a statewide office since Reconstruction.
Luckett, who is white, could well bear the frustration of Mississippi black voters over that history in the 2011 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Contact Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com. Visit his blog at clarionledger.com.