LLOYD GRAY: Bryant retains upper hand

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Who got the most votes for governor last Tuesday? No, it wasn’t Phil Bryant. It was Johnny DuPree.
Certainly that’s a first for Mississippi – more people voting for an African-American candidate for the state’s highest office than for anyone else, including the man who’s the odds-on favorite to win the office.
The reason, of course, is that in spite of a record Republican primary turnout of about 282,000, nearly six in 10 Mississippians still voted in the Democratic primary. Predictions of a massive turnaround didn’t come to pass. This is a Republican state, but in an oddity of politics, the action in local races in many counties – including and especially in most of Northeast Mississippi, Lee County excepted – remains, for the time being at least, in the Democratic primary.
So the fact that DuPree outdistanced Bryant in total votes doesn’t mean much. After all, John Arthur Eaves Jr. got more votes in the Democratic primary that nominated him for governor four years ago than Haley Barbour took on the Republican side. Barbour easily dispatched Eaves in the general election.
Just because voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary in August doesn’t mean they’ll vote for the party’s gubernatorial nominee in November.
Phil Bryant is still in complete control of this race. He only enhanced his front-runner status with his strong showing last week, getting 59 percent in a four-man field and beating his nearest opponent, Dave Dennis, by more than 2-1. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Bryant loses in November, whether it’s DuPree or Luckett running against him.
Part of DuPree’s problem, even in the runoff, is evident in the voting patterns in the first primary. In majority white rural counties, Luckett beat him handily. The only county that DuPree carried in Northeast Mississippi was Lee, which has now tipped over to a majority of local races on the Republican side, a nearly two-and-a-half-to-one ratio of Republican vs. Democratic primary voting, and what appears to be a majority of black voters on the Democratic side.
Race, as much as we hate to admit it, is still a significant determining factor in how both whites and blacks vote.
DuPree is a solid and credible candidate and by all accounts has been a good mayor of Hattiesburg. He was first elected when the city had a white majority. But his race is a hurdle in this election.
Luckett has had nothing but good things to say about DuPree, and the best thing he can do is keep the runoff polite and civil so as not to alienate the heavy black support and turnout he would need in November if he’s the nominee. Yet it’s clear that Luckett, just as DuPree, will be yoked to the national Democrats and tagged a liberal by the Republicans right out of the general election campaign gate.
“Career politician” isn’t a knock that seemed to bother many people about Bryant. The Republicans have a way of making their “liberal” knock on the Democrat stick. For either DuPree or Luckett, it will be an uphill climb.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.