There have been a lot of interesting things going on in the Mississippi Political Landscape. Here are a few random thoughts and observations.

Rudy in Mississippi
In early September, leading national Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani made a campaign/fundraising stop in Jackson. This was the day before the New Hampshire debates, so Rudy spent part of the day in debate prep. During an event highlighting Mississippi’s disaster response team with member of the Mississippi Fire Academy present, Rudy spoke off the cuff for a solid twenty minutes. The joint event, where he was introduced by Haley Barbour sent journalists scampering about the possibility of a Rudy/Haley presidential ticket.

As a personal aside, I heard Rudy speak twice during his trip, and he exudes competence. He has an amazing command of the issues. He is a very effective communicator, and at the end of the day, I think he can win Mississippi’s delegates in the Republican Presidential Primary.

Rudy has now gained a lot of hardened Republican supporters from Mississippi and is now among the fundraising leaders for presidential candidates from the state.

Hello, Guv’na
There is not a whole lot of suspense in the Governor’s race. Haley Barbour will win. It is now only a question of how much.

Many political insiders say that a 56-57% victory would be a huge margin and that a larger one is not attainable. After watching both campaigns and listening to the first debate between the two candidates, I have renewed confidence in my prediction that Haley will carry 60%. Don’t underestimate how high a hurdle that is, but I think Barbour will pull it off. If he does, I think he drags some legislative races to the Republican side and substantially increases the likelihood that we will see a new Speaker of the House in January.

Bryant vs. Franks
Franks recently tried to push some polling that had that contest “within the margin of error”. Polling that nailed Bryant’s previous race (which was a difficult one to call) within 1 point has Bryant up by almost twenty points.

Franks has been lauded by many in the press as a credible threat to Bryant. However, I am hardpressed to see what all the fuss is about. He is an engaging, successful young trial lawyer. I am sure he will work hard on the campaign trail. But he doesn’t speak as well as Bryant, he hasn’t been in government as long as Bryant, he is not as qualified as Bryant, and he doesn’t have the campaign organization that Bryant does. At the end of the day, Bryant walks in this one.

Mistah Speekah
According to Paul Gallo and other sources, on September 29th, Speaker Billy McCoy will be rallying his legislative troops in Northeast Mississippi. It will be interesting to see how many Democrats who posit themselves as conservatives attend the event. Locked in a major struggle for the Speaker’s seat, McCoy cannot lose more than 15 Democrats, or he will lose his seat to conservative Democrat Rep. Jeff Smith of Columbus. Smith has locked in 47 of 62 needed votes from the House Republicans.

On the campaign trail, incumbents in tight races are being coy (and some have been downright evasive) about whom they will vote for Speaker. Other challengers in tight races, especially in conservative districts, are making their races a proxy on the Speaker’s leadership. House 66 Republican challenger Cory Wilson already has radio ads running that chides incumbent Cecil Brown for his support of Billy McCoy.

Many legislators will be put in very tough positions. Many face ire of voters based on their choice for Speaker on the campaign trail. And, of course, being on the wrong side of a Speaker vote is a sure way to lose power through all important committee chairs.

Jim Hood Race
Jim Hood has come out with a pretty good ad that is running in pretty significant rotation on TV. After much promise was shown by his opponent, Al Hopkins. at Neshoba, he hasn’t been heard of much since. The “You’re Fired” motif could have been strong if it had $1M behind it and he was running full blast on Labor Day, but I think it will be too little too late unless there is a substantial move in the next 7-10 days. There is just going to be so much noise at the end of the campaign and the hill for Hopkins is so high, if he is not climbing it right now, I think late October will just be too late.

3rd District Race
The scramble for Pickering’s seat continues behind the scenes. Gregg Harper and John Rounsaville are committed to the race. Harper will have a presence in Rankin County that, if it remains undiluted by other candidates, could be formidable. Both candidates will have pretty low name ID and will need to raise lots of money to get in a runoff.

Others still pondering include State Senator Walter Michel, Whit Hughes, and Colby Lane. Michel will have a pretty lengthy legislative record (with true conservative voting bona fides) to run on and will have the benefit of some existing organization. He has also run a statewide race. Whit Hughes is a phenomenal fund raiser, and it will be interesting to see if he can convert support he garnered for other candidates to himself, should he throw his hat in the ring. Colby Lane, currently Counsel to the Governor, has strong Rankin County roots but has not held elective office of any sort.

All of these candidates and potential candidates will have trouble overtly raising money and soliciting support until after the November elections. However, there is one outsider that may not be held to the insider’s standard. David Landrum, a local businessman, has made overtures about running. He has a solid base of personal funds to put a credible campaign into motion quickly, but he is not so “inside” that he risks being affected by clear efforts within the Republican party to avoid campaigning for the 3rd district seat before November.

More to come
The first shots in the statewide races have barely been fired. The next six weeks will feature $20M in political ads hitting the airwaves as well as debates, stump speeches and the occasional campaign gaffe . . . and we’ll be here to cover it all.