During the 2003 gubernatorial campaign, Daily Journal Executive Editor Lloyd Gray made the decision we were going to travel with the candidates during the final days of their campaigns and do daily stories.
It harkened back to old-style journalism when newspapers used to invest more on the daily activities of the candidates.
I was assigned to cover the campaign of incumbent Ronnie Musgrove while my then-colleague Danny McKenzie was tagged with covering Republican challenger Haley Barbour.
We got a good response statewide from our coverage.
On one particular day, we flew into the Tupelo Regional Airport where Musgrove and his campaign were met by supporters.
As we were preparing to get in cars to visit numerous locations in Northeast Mississippi, a member of the Musgrove campaign asked apologetically if I would mind not being in the car with the governor for a while so a reporter with the New York Times who had traveled to Mississippi to do a story on the race could have some time with Musgrove.
Since I had been with Musgrove almost nonstop, and would see him once we reached our various destinations I did not have a problem with that. I ended up in the vehicle with then-Nettleton Mayor Brandon Presley, a rather rotund 26-year-old who appeared to be the stereotypical Mississippi good-old boy.
Presley had been elected mayor of Nettleton at age 23. I knew who he was, but had never met him.
As we sped across Northeast Mississippi to various campaign stops, Presley literally kept me in stitches as he alternated between mimicking Musgrove’s high-pitched Southern nasal twang and Barbour’s deep and slow Southern drawl.
At some point, the Musgrove people came back to me to say I could continue riding with the governor. I told them I thought he and the New York Times reporter needed some more alone time. I would continue to travel with Presley.
I have told that story so many times that Presley is, no doubt, getting tired of hearing it. But it came to mind last week when MSNBC’s the Daily Rundown highlighted rising politicians in the state.
On the Democratic side, the national cable network highlighted Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber while on the Republican side Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Treasurer Lynn Fitch were singled out.
All are good choices. No doubt, Shelton’s victory in Republican stronghold Tupelo was a watershed event and gives a beleaguered Mississippi Democratic Party hope.
Interestingly, some believe that Fitch might challenge Reeves in 2015 for lieutenant governor, though I find that scenario not very likely.
It was more difficult to find rising Democratic stars. While there are capable Democrats in the Legislature and in local offices, including Shelton and Yarber, Presley is no doubt Mississippi Democrats’ best chance to claim another statewide office.
Currently, Attorney General Jim Hood of Houston is Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat. He has survived all comers from a Republican Party that has grown dramatically in strength during his tenure in statewide office. But other than Hood, Mississippi Democrats do not have a very deep bench in terms of politicians who could be considered serious statewide candidates.
Presley, the current second-term Northern District public service commissioner, could.
He is by far the best communicator in the state in terms of getting his points across and connecting with his audience. Plus, he is a relentless campaigner.
Seldom, regardless of the audience, does Presley not gain favorable comments after his presentation. Presley is able to connect his brand of populism with an overall economic message for the state that connects with a wide variety of voters.
Presley is as good a retail politician as there is in the state right now. But could he raise the millions of dollars needed to run a credible statewide campaign?
In today’s modern political world, candidates need more than a sense of humor, gift of gab and ideas.
They need money. And in recent elections, Democrats have had a hard time raising money in Mississippi.
But whether he can raise money or not, Presley would be fun to travel with on the campaign trail.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at (601) 946-9931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.