by Alan Lange
There are several things to be looking out for this coming week as we approach the June 5 primaries. The race thus far has failed to capture the imaginations of Mississippians. There’s been very little actual news generated in any of the primaries and most of the campaigns appear content to not throw any serious punches. If absentee ballot requests are any indication, we may be headed for a record low turnout. Anecdotally, it feels that way. That puts advantage squarely on incumbents and those with the largest name ID.
Senate Democratic Primary
This race hasn’t been much for newsmaking, but it does feature some very obvious contrasts. Probably the most interesting thing about this race is that Mississippians are going to find out who’s in control of the Democratic party. It’s a statewide race. It features a candidate that has the backing of the Democratic establishment (Rep. David Baria), and outsider that’s trying to buy his way in the race with ads focused on his connection to the black community (Howard Sherman – who is not black) and an African American legislator with no great amount of name ID or candidate organization (Rep. Omeria Scott).
Theoretically, the race is Baria’s to lose. He has most of what one would consider the Democratic political establishment behind him, much like Vicki Slater did in 2015. That includes an endorsement from the head of the legislative black caucus, who opted for Baria over fellow LBC member Omeria Smith. If Sherman wins, which doesn’t appear particularly likely, it would seem to show that ad purchases on TV and urban radio along with his wife’s celebrity are the path to victory.
However, if Omeria Scott were to win (or even come close to winning), it would prove that what happened with Robert Gray in 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Robert Gray was the sweet potato truck driver turned Democratic gubernatorial nominee who ran no campaign, didn’t vote for himself and whose mama didn’t even know he was running. Gray beat a field of three, including the well-funded trial lawyer/Democrat establishment candidate, Vicki Slater, and went on to get shellacked by Phil Bryant in November 2015. Scott has raised almost no money and has had very little in the way of an overt campaign organization. But in the Y’all Politics poll conducted in April, Scott was neck-and-neck with Baria and Sherman with a vast majority of Democrats undecided.
Speaking of the Democratic primary, it’s worth mentioning that the state’s last remaining newspaper of record, the Clarion Ledger, has had a series of fawning news pieces running over the last two weeks entirely about Democrats.
Feature length puff pieces about David Baria, Howard Sherman, Omeria Scott, and even a feature piece about the lesser Democrat primary candidates (Bohren, Garland and Maurice) have all run in the last two weeks. They also featured MS03 candidate Michael Aycox on being openly gay.
Meanwhile, there are 6 Republican congressional candidates and two US Senate primary candidates (incumbent Roger Wicker and challenger Richard Boyanton), who’ve received no similar last minute earned-media feature fawning coverage by the Clarion Ledger. Those articles may be rolling out in rapid succession this week and hence I may be jumping the gun a bit, but the totality of these feature pieces targeted exclusively towards Democrat candidates has been, if nothing else, an oddly-timed coincidence that have a lot of Republicans talking among themselves.
Third District Republican Primary
You generally have six pro-Trump Republicans. Again, nary a punch has been thrown in this race. That may or may not change this week. What will be interesting to see is turnout. If turnout is down, you’d have to say that generally favors candidates that voters have voted for before (Guest and Doty) and the folks that have raised and spent the most money (Hughes and Guest).
Here are some stats.
There were about 92,000 votes in the Republican primary in 2014. In 2016 (a presidential election year), it was 97,000. Based on the race dynamic, it’s hard to think that there will be more than 90,000 votes cast in this primary. Ordinarily, there are about 28,000 voters in Rankin, 18,000 voters in Madison, 11,000 voters in Lauderdale and 6,000 voters in Hinds. That’s 63,000 votes or potentially about 70% of the votes cast in that race will likely come from those four counties. Again, advantage to those candidates with the biggest presence in those counties (Guest and Hughes).
There were only 51,000 votes cast in the 2008 contested primary runoff between Gregg Harper and Charlie Ross and that was the result of a meaningful three way primary that showed spark the whole way. Again, if this race makes it to a runoff, the universe of voters is likely to be small.