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We now return you to your regularly scheduled brilliant political analysis.

Though I am no grizzled veteran of Neshoba by any means, I have come to enjoy it. About December, insiders saw a political perfect storm potentially brewing that we thought might unleash itself at Neshoba. However, politically speaking, there were not many surprises today, except one that I will describe momentarily. All of the major candidates in statewide races seem to come with their ‘A’ game.

Neshoba is not a good place to count votes, but it is an excellent place to judge organization. It is pretty easy to tell whether or not a campaign has its act together or not. The Lieutanant Governor’s candidate speeches were definitely a contrast in styles.

Franks was first and very much talked at the crowd, like a lawyer to a jury. Ross was predictably methodical and got his points against Bryant in. Bryant is certainly the most polished of the three candidates and seemed to have the largest presence in terms of signs, supporters and crowd noise. He definitely got some licks in on Ross as well. A lot of Bryant’s organization is directly attributed to the fact that this is not Bryant’s first time around. A ten year Fair veteran, he has had years to build up his organization. If the race for LG between Ross and Bryant was a toss up (and I don’t think at this point it is), Bryant’s ground game, built over the last decade, would have to be somewhat of a deciding advantage.

The Auditor’s race is pretty ho-hum, though it seemed that Stacey Pickering stood out head and shoulders above his Democratic opponents both on the stump and with a pretty significant campaign organization. Again, having Chip as a cousin and Charles as an uncle no doubt helps with a huge spread at Neshoba, but this race in the general election is clearly Pickering’s to lose.

The biggest surprise of the day was Al Hopkins. He spoke at 1:00 and candidly brought the house down. His campaign was well organized, he was well prepared, and he could “deliver the line”. I had yet to hear him in person, but he is the real deal. I predicted three months ago that the power of incumbency would be too much for him to overcome against Hood. I don’t know that I would completely recant at this point, but he definitely has my attention.

His message was to “Fire Jim Hood” as AG, and he made a very compelling case. From the Padnuship to his “sweetheart deals to contributors” to his fighting Haley at every possible turn, he had the crowd screaming “You’re Fired!”. Hood had plenty of folks in T-shirts (several of them wearing Franks T-Shirts before lunch I noticed). He had some signs in the audience and had a nice crowd. However, he didn’t get anywhere near the reception that Hopkins did. Hopkins crowd was rowdy, and he converted more than a few fairgoers onsite.

The bottom line in that race is that the Rs may well have a candidate in Hopkins that they can invest in. Barbour would love to have a friend in the AGs office, and he has been helping Hopkins raise money for all the world to see. But if the “You’re Fired” as AG mantra starts to stick, Haley may well stick a few hundred thousand dollars in that race if money could make the difference.

Barbour had a huge presence and will be on full display tomorrow. We will be back at it again with news and wrap up.