LLOYD GRAY: Voters get to provide the answers

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Three primary questions will be answered Tuesday when Mississippi voters have their say:
1) Is Billy Hewes’ purported surge in the lieutenant governor’s race real, or is it strictly in the imagination of his supporters? If it’s real, will it be enough to overcome what was once an overwhelming lead for Tate Reeves?
2) Will Phil Bryant be forced to undergo the inconvenience of a runoff in what many believe is a waltz to the governorship, and if so, what will it do to that aura of inevitability?
3) Will the increase in Republican candidates for local offices – and the dearth of competitive statewide races on the Democratic ballot – mean that the black majority in the Democratic primary will be sufficient for Johnny DuPree to defeat Bill Luckett?
Of course other party nominations are up for grabs – treasurer, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state – but the high interest races are at the top of the ballot. The following, while certainly not out of the question, would rate as upsets of a sort:
1) A Hewes victory.
2) A Republican gubernatorial runoff.
3) A Luckett win.
All are possible. So is a statewide Republican primary that outdraws the Democrats for the first time.
The Hewes-Reeves race constitutes a reversal of the old formula in Mississippi, where winning the Democratic primary, as they used to say, was “tantamount to election.” There were no Republicans on the November ballot for the better part of the 20th century and then when they started to appear, their chances of winning initially were about as good as the Reform Party today.
That’s all the Hewes-Reeves winner will have to worry about in the general election – a Reform Party candidate. This primary is “tantamount to election.”
This election year is historic in Mississippi because it offers stark testimony to our transition from a one-party Democratic state to something approaching that on the Republican side at the statewide level. It would have been inconceivable just a few years ago that the only contested Democratic primary statewide race would be for governor, and that there would be no Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state or auditor.
This change has happened fast. Less than 10 years ago, seven of eight statewide elected officials were Democrats. Today seven of eight are Republican.
Once Mississippi voters began a conscious alignment of their national voting patterns with state politics, the change was inevitable. Haley Barbour, more than anyone else, accelerated it. Add to that the absence of any effective Democratic organization in Mississippi and it’s no wonder what has occurred.
And yet – Jim Hood, the Democratic attorney general, will enter the fall general election campaign as the favorite for re-election. Additionally, the Republicans will still have to fight to win a majority in the state House this fall.
Conventional wisdom has one take on this election. Now it’s the voters’ turn.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc. com.

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