SID SALTER: Reeves, Luckett biggest winners

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – Set aside the fact that Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant walked the dog with 59 percent against the GOP gubernatorial primary field – the biggest winners of the Aug. 2 primaries were Republican Tate Reeves and Democrat Bill Luckett.
Bryant pounded challenger Dave Dennis, who ran as tentative and timid a gubernatorial campaign as this writer has ever seen. Here’s a candidate in Dennis who has spent years talking about running for governor who simply never got out of the blocks once his race actually began. Perhaps the most indelible image from the Dennis campaign was the TV spot showing him being raised on a mechanical lift or “cherry picker” while wearing a neon yellow safety harness.
Despite trying vainly to evoke images of himself as another decisive businessman like Kirk Fordice, it seemed Dennis orchestrated his entire campaign like a man wearing a safety harness – and setting up a rather epic failure. Given Bryant’s dominance of the GOP primary from start to finish, the only real surprise in that primary was the fact that lesser known candidates Ron Williams, Gen. Hudson Holliday and James Broadwater pulled some 15 percent of the non-Bryant GOP primary vote from Dennis.
But it was Republican Tate Reeves’ decisive win over Gulf Coast state Sen. Billy Hewes in the lieutenant governor’s race that drew most of the attention Tuesday night. The win makes Reeves for all purposes the lieutenant governor-elect as he faces only possible token opposition from a Reform Party candidate in the November general election.
That fact gives Reeves five months to craft his leadership team in the state Senate while the state House faces a hasty process of choosing a new speaker after the general election. With the state set to choose a new governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, Reeves’ extraordinarily long period to assemble a Senate “go team” should make him more effective.
Beyond that, Reeves overcame opposition from several GOP luminaries in the primary battle with Hewes, which strengthens his hand inside the party moving forward.
Luckett overcame Thompson
For the Democrats, Luckett overcame the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson to force a runoff with Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree. DuPree’s best chance was to ride a high first primary turnout to victory. In a runoff with Luckett, second primary turnout is almost certain to decrease and that should play into Luckett’s favor.
Luckett has superior campaign resources and a larger campaign organization. Clearly, DuPree’s challenge will be to find campaign finance resources for the runoff and a way to stimulate second primary turnout.
The last Democratic gubernatorial nominee, John Arthur Eaves Jr., got 42 percent of the vote against Haley Barbour. Whether DuPree or Luckett would fare better against Bryant in November is an exercise in pure speculation, but many believe the choice of a Democratic gubernatorial nominee will have an impact on the makeup of the House in 2012 and thereby the choice of a new House speaker.
Conventional political wisdom holds that DuPree at the top of the Democratic ticket would drive turnout in majority African-American counties and legislative districts with significant black populations. Should Luckett win the runoff with DuPree, that theory will be tested.
But Luckett bucked the odds in the first primary. Politicians in both parties will anxiously watch how he fares in the Democratic runoff to see how it impacts the general election from the top of the ballot to the bottom.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.