By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — The Mississippi governor’s race on Friday was narrowed from four candidates to two, with only the major-party nominees remaining on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Independent Will Oatis of Silver Creek withdrew from the race, citing a money shortage. The three-member state Election Commission removed the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg from the governor’s race because he’s also running for state treasurer.
Democratic Mayor Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg and Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant of Brandon remain in contention for the state’s top office.
In a letter to the secretary of state’s office, Oatis said: “My decision to withdraw is due to lack of financial resources to sustain my campaign through November.” Oatis’ most recent finance report showed he spent $11,899 from Jan. 1 through June 30, with $111 left in his campaign fund.
O’Hara filed to run for both governor and treasurer this year, and the commission voted Friday to let him run for treasurer.
A state law enacted a few years ago in response to O’Hara’s habit of signing up for multiple offices says candidates can seek only one at a time. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said a candidate who files for multiple offices can run for the one in which he filed most recently — and in O’Hara’s case, that was the treasurer’s race.
Republican Hosemann serves on the Election Commission with Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood. Commissioners met Friday to set a sample ballot that must be mailed to circuit clerks by next week.
One of the biggest questions the commission handled Friday was choosing between feuding slates of Reform Party candidates for statewide offices. A slate that includes O’Hara was chosen over one that included Bobby A. Kearan for governor.
Reform Party candidates usually run low-budget campaigns in Mississippi, and none has ever been elected to statewide or regional office, or to a legislative seat. The dispute between the two Reform factions stretches to the national level of the party.
Election commissioners listened for about an hour to try to determine which side had filed campaign finance reports, held conventions or taken other steps generally expected from fully functioning political parties.
Although Barbour, Hood and Hosemann all voted to allow the O’Hara slate on the ballot, the governor chided both Reform groups for being unorganized.
“If I were here next year, I wouldn’t let either one of you on the ballot,” said Barbour, who’s in his final months as governor.
In addition to O’Hara for treasurer, the Reform slate approved for statewide races includes Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill for lieutenant governor, John Luke Pannell for secretary of state, Ashley Norwood for auditor, Barbara Dale Washer for insurance commissioner and Cathy L. Toole for agriculture commissioner. Pannell has until Tuesday to give the Elections Commission documents showing he meets residency requirements to run for lieutenant governor.
The Election Commission is also requesting proof of residency by Tuesday from Yasming S. Johnson of Hattiesburg, a Reform Party candidate in the District 45 state Senate race; and from Todd Wade of Oxford, the Republican nominee in the District 9 Senate seat.
Wade, a former pro football player, is challenging four-term Democratic Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford.
Wade attended the Election Commission meeting with three attorneys. Representatives of the secretary of state’s office said they had been unable to find proof that Wade has been a registered voter long enough to run for Senate. State law requires any Senate candidate to be a “qualified elector” — that is, registered voter — in Mississippi at least four years.
Hosemann’s staff said records show Wade registered to vote in Lafayette County on Sept. 15, 2010.
Wade said he originally registered 15 years ago in Rankin County, when he was in high school. Hosemann’s staff said Rankin County had no record of his having been on the voter rolls.
Hood said that if Wade had voted at some point in Rankin County, there should be a poll book with Wade’s signature. Hood asked Wade if he had ever voted.
“I did not,” Wade said.