LLOYD GRAY: GOP rivals’ messages do differ by degree

Categorizing the three Republican candidates for the 1st District congressional nomination isn’t hard in a broad sense. They’re all conservative, and each is more so than Travis Childers, the conservative Democrat they hope to oust in November.
But degrees of differences are evident, mainly on the things they emphasize and the way they craft their message. Some of that can be seen on Page 11A in today’s Daily Journal, where the candidates answer – unabridged and unedited – a set of questions we presented to them. It’s an interesting and revealing read.
Of course political platitudes pop up here and there. But there’s specificity in their answers, and agree with them or not, you get a pretty good idea of where they stand. The campaign’s themes are reflected; they’re all on message.
Angela McGlowan and Henry Ross both began the campaign knowing that Alan Nunnelee was the frontrunner, and they’ve been knocking him directly and indirectly ever since. He’s the favorite of the state Republican establishment, and they clearly are banking on that being a liability in the current anti-establishment climate. (See: Utah, Kentucky, Pennsylvania.)
McGlowan, after being privately discouraged by GOP leaders from entering the race, has gone as far as to say she won’t support Nunnelee if he’s the nominee. Ross simply casts himself as the alternative to the “career politicians” he says have messed things up.
Nunnelee’s tenure has been in Jackson, not Washington, and fiscal affairs have been a bit better managed at the state Capitol. The long-time state senator and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee can hardly run away from his legislative experience, so he has done what would have been automatic in a normal campaign year: he’s emphasized it. Even people who want to limit government need to know how to operate within it, Nunnelee says.
McGlowan and Ross, while both brandishing their roles as underdog, anti-establishment candidates, are at the same time emphasizing slightly different themes. While all three candidates speak to one degree or another of America’s impending decline if current government policies continue, Ross more than anyone has seized this theme and made it into his “faith, family and freedom” crusade. He is the purest ideologue in the race, offering up partial privatization of Social Security, impeachment of Supreme Court justices and congressional term limits as staples of his campaign.
McGlowan has more of a populist streak, reflecting the combination of anti-Washington and anti-Wall Street and big business strains that fuels the Tea Party movement, which she has embraced (and been embraced by) more than the others. That populism gets interesting on policy issues like free trade. At a recent Daily Journal editorial board meeting, she criticized NAFTA and other free trade agreements as job-killers, a position that is not exactly orthodox Republicanism.
In a difficult two-step, McGlowan both emphasizes that she understands how Washington works – she’s been a lobbyist, political consultant and congressional aide in addition to her Fox News gig – while at the same time casting herself as a congressional outsider. It’s a bit of a mixed message, but she pulls it off with flair.
Nunnelee comes off as the moderate – more in temperament than in politics – in the group, though claims that his record is anything less than staunchly conservative are campaign hyperbole.
This primary campaign has thus far been spirited but not ugly, as least not to the degree of the 2008 primary between Glenn McCullough and Greg Davis, which left the GOP in tatters and McCullough’s supporters mad at the victorious Davis. Childers unquestionably benefited from that bitter primary fight.
If no candidate gets a majority on June 1 and there’s a runoff three weeks later, this year’s Republican battle could conceivably turn sour, again to Childers’ benefit. But the king of the state GOP establishment and national party icon, Gov. Haley Barbour, has already issued a warning about purity tests and divisiveness within the Republican Party.
“Purity in politics is a loser,” the big-tent Barbour said recently. “Unity in politics is a winner.”
Above all, that’s what Republicans need coming out of this primary if they’re to have a chance to regain a seat many believe they never should have lost.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.

Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal