By The Associated Press
Politics takes no holiday in Mississippi this Fourth of July weekend as candidates speak at festivals and seek support for the party primaries that are just a month away.
Organizers say at least six gubernatorial hopefuls will trek to the far northeastern corner of the state to appear Monday at the Jacinto Fourth of July Festival in Alcorn County, which now bills itself as one of the largest political speaking events of the campaign season – second only to the Neshoba County Fair outside Philadelphia at the end of July.
The gubernatorial candidates scheduled to appear at Jacinto are Democrats Johnny DuPree and Bill Luckett, Republicans Dave Dennis, Hudson Holliday and Ron Williams and independent William Oatis. Both of the Republicans running for lieutenant governor, Billy Hewes and Tate Reeves, also are on the speakers’ roster.
Republican Phil Bryant, the top fundraiser in the governor’s race, will skip Jacinto this year and speak instead in the central Mississippi hamlet of Lena, another Independence Day festival that attracts statewide and local politicians.
Party primaries are Aug. 2, and the general election is Nov. 8.
Independence Day offers candidates a chance to mingle with potential voters in informal settings from the Tennessee state line to the Gulf Coast. Candidates are hitting festivals this weekend in Southaven, Magee, Meridian, Friars Point and other cities.
Beth Whitehurst, executive director of the Jacinto Foundation Inc., said thousands of people are expected to converge outside the 157-year-old former Jacinto courthouse in Alcorn County for food, crafts, speaking by state and local politicians and dancing by Chucalissa Indians. It’s a bring-your-own-lawn-chair kind of gathering, and spectators can expect to sweat.
“It’s the 32nd year we’ve done this,” Whitehurst said. “We know it’s hot.”
Jacinto encompasses about a one-block area off Mississippi Highway 356 outside Rienzi. Whitehead said gubernatorial candidates in previous elections have called and asked how to find the speakers’ platform once they arrived at the Jacinto festival.
“If he can’t find the political speaking when he gets here, he doesn’t need to be governor,” Whitehurst said with a laugh.
Two-term Republican Gov. Haley Barbour couldn’t seek re-election this year. In recent appearances around the state, the candidates for governor are honing in on their talking points.
Bryant, of Flowood, says his work as lieutenant governor this term and state auditor for a decade before that has prepared him for the state’s top job. Dennis, of Pass Christian, says his experience as a building contractor gives him the private-sector background a governor needs. Holliday, of Poplarville, says he’s prepared because of his military service and work in several businesses and as a Pearl River County supervisor. Williams, a Moss Point businessman, says he wants to reduce the size of government.
DuPree points to his 10 years as Hattiesburg mayor and his previous service as a Forrest County supervisor and Hattiesburg school board member. Luckett, an attorney and businessman, says his collaboration on a blues club and an upscale restaurant have revitalized downtown Clarksdale and he wants to use that experience to boost the state.
Also running for governor in the primaries are Democrat William Bond Compton, who’s a Meridian High School teacher; Democrat Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville, a retired tax assessor; and Republican James Broadwater of Byram, a former state employee.
Oatis and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara don’t have primaries but will be on the general election ballot for governor. Oatis is a military veteran, and O’Hara has run unsuccessfully for dozens of state and local offices the past 20 years.