SID SALTER: Neshoba features last big political chance

By Sid Salter

Over the July 4th weekend at the Neshoba County Fairgrounds, every available light pole, blank barn wall, fence posts and stump of any size was already covered with political signs from the ground up as high as ladders would reach – along with the fair cabin walls and porches of those willing to openly declare their voting intentions.
That was a month before the 122nd Neshoba County Fair opened for business.
This week, the Founder’s Square Pavilion at Neshoba is once again Mississippi’s political epicenter. Here’s one longtime fairgoer and political observer’s take on the political fare that awaits patrons who visit Neshoba for the political speeches:
• The most contentious races are in the Democratic gubernatorial primary and the Republican primary for lieutenant governor. Neshoba will make Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett’s last significant chance to improve his fortunes against Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree in the Democratic Party primary battle for governor. Luckett has the superior resources and a larger, more organized campaign effort.
DuPree has the backing of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, and it appears that campaign manager Sam Hall is orchestrating the same kind of ground game that has helped him lead other candidates he’s advised to come-from-behind wins.
On the Republican side, it will be frontrunner Phil Bryant staving off attacks from the rest of the field. Challenger Dave Dennis has promised a more pointed attack, and Gen. Hudson Holliday, the Pearl River County supervisor/businessman, and Gulf Coast businessman Ron Williams, remain serious candidates who will do well in an old-style political stump speech. Bryant will look to make no mistakes and seal the deal. The most intrigue is whether or not Bryant’s challengers can force a second primary.
• It’s the GOP primary for lieutenant governor that will make attending both the Wednesday and Thursday round of Neshoba speeches mandatory for the state’s political junkies. The increasingly acrimonious race between state Sen. Billy Hewes and state Treasurer Tate Reeves will culminate in individual stump speeches followed by a debate organized by a Jackson TV station. The polling puts Reeves ahead, but the gap seems to be narrowing.
Since the Democrats didn’t field a challenger in this race, the winner of the Hewes-Reeves GOP primary will lead the Senate in 2012 and that makes their Neshoba appearances all the more compelling. Get a spot early on Wednesday for that exchange and come back Thursday for the gubernatorial race speeches and Gov. Haley Barbour’s Neshoba swan song.
For more information and a full speaking schedule, go to neshobacountyfair.org
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (662) 325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.