SID SALTER: Thompson’s endorsement adds heft for DuPree

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – In the 2011 Democratic gubernatorial primary, the other shoe finally dropped as Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett fight it out for their party’s nomination.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, the senior Democratic official in the state’s congressional delegation – and in this session, the only one – on Tuesday made public his endorsement of DuPree in their party’s primary. While not totally unexpected, the endorsement is a plum for Dupree and a blow to Luckett’s chances at winning the nomination.
Thompson’s endorsement joins those of Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, Philadelphia Mayor James Young and other municipal and county government officials white and black along with highly respected House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Percy Watson.
The question for Luckett is just how much Bennie Thompson’s endorsement matters – and the answer is that it matters a great deal in a Democratic primary. Not only is Thompson the state’s only Democratic congressman, he’s a congressman with the ear of the White House.
The current path to federal patronage jobs in Mississippi leads through Thompson’s office as the ranking Democrat and former chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
What was Thompson’s endorsement of a fellow black candidate worth in 2008? Thompson’s support at the grassroots level was critical in helping Obama attain a Mississippi Democratic primary win over his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. A record 434,152 voters cast ballots in Mississippi’s 2008 Democratic primary.
Election returns from the 2008 Democratic primary shows that Obama won 20 delegates from the state while Clinton won 13.
Obama won the primary with 265,502 votes, or 61.2 percent. Clinton placed second with 159,221 votes, or 36.7 percent. Democratic contenders who had already suspended their campaigns prior to the primary split the remaining 2.1 percent.
Thompson’s longevity, his growing seniority in Congress and his mastery of the local politics in the 2nd District – the state’s most vote-rich for Democrats – catapults him to the kind of political kingmaking status that white politicians like Big Jim Eastland once enjoyed.
Thompson is a shrewd and canny politician. He is also not afraid to play hardball with white Democrats who court the state’s African-American vote but then fail to reciprocate that support when African-American candidates are standing for election.
Conservatives make Thompson their whipping boy in Mississippi politics and Thompson is an unabashed liberal.
But in terms of partisan politics, Thompson plays the game exactly as white politicians have played it for decades in both the Democrat and Republican parties – he helps those who help him, and he plays to win.
Luckett has superior resources in his race against DuPree.
But in a Democratic primary in Mississippi, the follow-the-money rule doesn’t always apply.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (662) 325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.