LLOYD GRAY: This field is better than most

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

As we enter the final stretch of this primary election campaign, here’s an observation: Mississippians in 2011 have the widest array of credible choices for governor in both parties we’ve had in a long time.
The four leading candidates for governor – Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis on the Republican side, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Clarksdale attorney-businessman Bill Luckett on the Democratic ballot – offer distinct alternatives, whether paired against their principal primary opponent or the entire field.
Bryant’s the consummate state-level insider, the political veteran who’s climbed the ladder and is now looking to take the next step up. Dennis is the antithesis of that model, the business and civic leader who considers his lack of experience in political office to be an asset, not a liability.
If you’re looking for someone with extensive experience in the grassroots concerns of local government, there’s DuPree, who was a school board member and county supervisor before becoming mayor of one of Mississippi’s leading cities. Luckett fills the bill on the Democratic side as the outsider who’s made his mark in the business and legal worlds and believes what he’s learned there is better preparation for being governor than government work.
Philosophically, the Republicans are pretty close. Both are staunch conservatives.
Stylistically, however, they’re very different – Bryant with his cowboy boots and aw-shucks manner, Dennis with a more polished and businesslike affability.
Same for the Democrats. They’re less conservative than the Republicans, though hardly flaming liberals, and they agree on most issues. But in addition to the obvious racial difference – DuPree is black, Luckett white – you can find differing personality traits that suggest distinctive leadership approaches.
It’s not hard to imagine any of these candidates sitting in the governor’s office, and that’s saying something, considering some of the fields we’ve had in the past where there might have been one or two candidates at the most you could honestly say that about.
Bryant is the prohibitive favorite, of course, but with 16 days left in the campaign, Dennis will be gunning to get into a runoff, which could remove some of the aura of inevitably from the frontrunner’s campaign. His best hope is that fellow south Mississippians Hudson Holliday from Pearl River County and Ron Williams from Moss Point, both of whom are spending large sums of their own money, pull enough votes to let him slip into an Aug. 23 rematch with Bryant.
The Democratic matchup is a tossup, but with the shift to a majority black vote in the Democratic primary, DuPree may have the edge.
Looking strictly at the options in the governor’s race, it’s hard to complain about this year’s election. Whatever your political bent, whatever background you might think best suits an aspiring chief executive of the state, whatever style you like in a leader, it’s there.
In Mississippi, that’s a rarity. As cynical as we are about politics, we may not appreciate it when we have it.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.