There has been a giant sucking sound of earned media away from some very important congressional races. This is the first time in recent memory that we have two open seats for Congress, and the 1st and 3rd are fully engaged races, and Mississippians are just not enthused.

The conventional wisdom is that the winner of the 3rd CD Republican primary will be your next congressman from that district as this is one of the reddest red-meat districts in the United States. Four good major candidates have jumped in the race and all are making waves in their own way.

Gregg Harper

Upside
Gregg is a Rankin County lawyer that has been a political insider in the party apparatus for many years. He has been involved in Republican politics at the local, state and national level, and will probably have one of the strongest “ground games” because he has done so much of that work (signs, block captains, etc.) as part of the Rankin County Executive Committee for the GOP. He is an unabashed evangelical Christian and will have Huckabee-like following.

Downside
Huckabee is out of the race . . . because of lack of resources and a limited appeal. Gregg will make a strong play in Rankin County where he has lots of personal relationships, but the district is expansive. He has been outspent by a lot. Plus Charlie Ross will split votes with him on his home turf in Rankin.

David Landrum

Upside
David Landrum is a successful businessman, and is active with his church and Mission Mississippi. He and his wife look the part, he is very engaging personally, and I think his heart is in the right place. He aggressively self-funded a good chunk of his candidacy and has put in over $500K to date. That ability to fund his campaign may be his largest upside, especially if he can get in the runoff. He has been on TV for 7-8 weeks, where he has sought to build up his name ID from virtual obscurity.

Downside
Landrum is such an outsider that he has no natural political base, and that’s hard to artificially create especially with the absence of earned media. Unfortunately, the only earned media for Landrum recently has been bad earned media. His prior voting controversy that has been pushed in not so subtle ways by John Rounsaville has gotten some traction and Landrum has been forced to fend off charges that he has been an irregular voter and that his campaign had misrepresented some information.

Charlie Ross

Upside
Charlie Ross has just run a hard fought campaign for Lt. Governor, so he’s battle tested and had the highest name ID of any candidate going into the race. He has a fortress built around the issues because he is the only candidate that has ever had to take a public position on immigration, taxes, abortion, etc., as a member of the Mississippi Senate. No candidate has dared attack him on the issues because he’s bulletproof there. The elephant in the room is that on paper, he is unquestionably the most qualified candidate for this race. His 98 BIPEC rating, his endorsements (from several groups that endorsed his opponent in the LG race), and a solid campaign organization all but make him a shoe-in for the runoff.

Downside
The knock on Charlie has always been that he’s not real “soft and fuzzy”. He’s not. But he has humanized a bit in this race. He ran the LG race to win it, but he was doomed from the start running against Phil Bryant, who was always a better candidate. There is still some lingering bad blood from die-hard Bryant supporters, so there might be a bit of a hangover there.

John Rounsaville

Upside
John has great experience working for Governor Barbour and Chip Pickering. He is young and aggressive. He has been probably the most vocal of all candidates against David Landrum. Long term, Rounsaville has a great future in front of him and will likely parlay his efforts in this race into additional worthwhile public service roles.

Downside
He’s young and aggressive. In fact, he is very young (and looks it) and very aggressive and his direct attacks on Landrum probably don’t help him much. He has been an insider and staffer, but he has not had a chance to build enough name ID or a financial network that can get him to the next level in this race.

My take

I could honestly get behind any of these four candidates as a nominee. Their TV and other paid media so far has been extremely well done. They have all done well win, lose or draw. All of them are solid enough to beat the Democratic opposition.

There has been so little attention to this race in the media, but the events of the Democratic presidential primary and the subsequent media blitz that Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama will dump on Mississippi in the next few days might actually energize the entire electorate statewide . . . a little. This race has gotten so little media attention over the last 6-8 weeks that turnout will still not be very high.

I think Ross is a shoe-in to at least make the runoff. A week ago, I would have said Landrum was a shoe-in as well. However, this voting controversy is gaining momentum, and he needs to get this out of the news in the next day or two. Usually, a “scandal” likes this hurts both the target (Landrum) and the attacker (Rounsaville). Harper with a really good ground game could get into a runoff despite being outspent by Landrum many times over.

Ultimately, it’s tough to bet against Landrum who will have outspent everyone by a long shot, so I won’t. In a race like this, media means a lot, and he’s had the most. I think it’s Ross and Landrum that will go to a runoff (in that order), but I certainly can see the possibility that Harper will sneak in if Landrum can’t right the ship. I think Rounsaville will make a good showing, but this will not be his time.

Go vote next Tuesday. It should be an interesting night to count votes.