By: Sid Salter
A weekend visit to the Neshoba County Fairgrounds demonstrates that for the politicians and their supporters, the buildup to “Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty” is long since underway. Political signs and placards already dot trees, fence posts and power poles along the seven-mile stretch of Highway 21 running south from Philadelphia to the historic fairgrounds.
Inside the fairgrounds and particularly on Founder’s Square, the signs literally obscure every power pole and no small number of the fair cabins. Fair officials have for years enforced a “no signs on the trees” rule as best they could in an attempt to minimize damage to the old oaks on the grounds.
And the fair doesn’t actually start until July 27. The fair’s three-day marathon of political speaking will commence on Tuesday, July 31 and continue daily until the speeches conclude on Thursday, August 2 with a speech from Gov. Phil Bryant between 10:30 and 11 a.m. that day. By longstanding tradition, a Mississippi governor makes the last speech and gets the last word annually from the state’s premier political stump.
The Tuesday, July 31 speeches will feature remarks from Neshoba County area judicial and legislative officials including District Attorney Steven Kilgore, Chancery Judge Joseph Kilgore, State Sen. Jenifer Branning, State Rep. C. Scott Bounds, and Circuit Judges Mark Duncan and Chris Collins. There is a contested judicial race in the 6th Chancery Court Place 2 Judge’s position between candidates Rosalind Jordan and Kiley Kirk.
On Wednesday, August 1, the speakers will be statewide elected officials including Central District Public Service Commissioner Cecil Brown, Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, State Auditor Shad White, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Democratic Class II U.S. Senate candidate Tobey Bartee will speak early on Wednesday. Also speaking on Wednesday will be Third District U.S. House nominees Michael Ted “Big Country” Evans and Michael Guest. U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, the retiring GOP congressman Evans and Guest are seeking to follow, will give a farewell address to fairgoers as well.
But the marquee speeches on August 1 will come from incumbent Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood and incumbent GOP Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. The two speeches are highly anticipated as forerunners of a possible 2019 gubernatorial race matchup between the pair – although Hood has remained more reticent about his 2019 intentions to date than has Reeves.
Thursday, Aug. 2 marks the final day of political speaking at the 2018 Neshoba County Fair. Statewide officials set to speak that day will include State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gibson, and Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn.
Incumbent Class I Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker is not scheduled to speak, but three challengers in his race – Democratic nominee David Baria, and perennial candidates Danny Bedwell and Shawn O’Hara – are slated to speak on Thursday.
Perhaps the most closely watched speeches of the week will come from Class II U.S. Senate candidates headed for an open primary showdown in November. Those candidates will include Republicans State Sen. Chris McDaniel, Democratic candidate and former secretary of agriculture and Mississippi congressman Mike Espy, and Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.
Expect fireworks from the Senate candidates on Thursday from both parties. Many observers are likewise anxious to hear what second-term Republican Gov. Phil Bryant – who appointed Hyde-Smith to the Senate vacancy and who has previously criticized McDaniel – will have to say batting cleanup after McDaniel, Espy, and Hyde-Smith have said their pieces.