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Statewide Office Races – and...

Statewide Office Races – and predictions!

By: Magnolia Tribune - April 25, 2007

by Alan Lange
as Featured in the Metro Business Chronicle

With the 2007 slate of statewide candidates set as of the March 1 qualifying deadline, we can now look to November 2007 with a little more certainty. There was a good bit of jockeying and some interesting last minute additions to review.

Haley Barbour seems to be playing with a different deck of cards than everyone else. With the new announcement of the Toyota plant at Wellspring (conveniently scheduled on the day that his strongest opposition was announcing for Governor in Tupelo), Haley is riding high. He has only token primary opposition, and will cruise easily to win the Republican party?s nomination for a second term. Haley looks to be laying the groundwork for a seismic shift in Mississippi politics that could reverberate for decades. On the Democratic side, only two names really stand out. Jackson trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves will make another run at the Governor?s Mansion, as will former Musgrove Chief of Staff Bill Renick from Ashland. It will be interesting to follow the money in the Democratic primary. Many trial lawyers may be hesitant to fund an Eaves campaign that has little, if any chance of ultimate success. Plus, Eaves? campaign ads look a whole lot like his law firm ads and his cohorts may not want to ostensibly fund his branding for his law practice.

The only real intrigue to this race is whether or not Haley can grab 60%+, which would be a key figure to drag down ticket races that are ?on the margin? over to the Republican side. This will be especially helpful in the State Legislature, where Barbour is trying to exercise some control.

Prediction. Haley Barbour re-elected in a walk ? and he will get 60%.

There are no surprises here as of the deadline. Former Governor Ronnie Musgrove had flirted with a run, but never pulled the trigger. On the Republican side, State Senator Charlie Ross and State Auditor Phil Bryant will duke it out in the most interesting election contest of the year in the primary. The conventional wisdom is that Ross will need to push Bryant into a highly technical-on-the-issues race. Bryant is very good on camera and on the stump. Both candidates will be well funded and will be fighting over a relatively small amount of sacred Republican territory. This primary will all come down to campaign execution.

The winner of that contest will face State Representative Jamie Franks, a trial lawyer from Mooreville. Franks pumped $500,000 of his own money into his coffers just before the finance report deadline in January. Absent that money, he had only raised about $50,000 in 2006.

Prediction. Bryant v. Ross in the primary is too close to call, but the winner will be the next Lieutenant Governor.

There were a few interesting twists and turns in this race. Former Democratic Party Chair Ricky Cole entered the race, but then abruptly backed out at the last minute and signed up for the Agriculture Commissioner slot. Former State Senator Rob Smith has thrown his hat in the ring at the last minute, and he will face the relatively unknown Jabari Toins from Jackson and John Windsor from Corinth in the Democratic primary.

The Republican side has a bit more intrigue. Jackson business lawyer Delbert Hosemann has committed to run. You may remember that Delbert ran against Ronnie Shows for the 4th US Congressional seat years ago. He will be joined in that primary by former Columbus Mayor Jeffery Rupp and State Representative Mike Lott. Lott has been very outspoken against illegal immigration, so that will probably be his pet issue. Rupp, a former TV executive, will look good on TV if he can raise enough money to get there. This race will likely boil down to money and name ID in key strongholds, which gives Hosemann the edge.

Prediction. Delbert Hosemann will be elected in a close primary (possibly a runoff) and a relatively easy general election.

A continued bright spot in the Republican party and in state politics is Tate Reeves. It speaks very highly of him that the opposing party could not field a serious candidate.

Prediction. Tate Reeves raises more money, has continued success as Treasurer, and strengthens his position for higher office in 2011.

This race will be between the incumbent, Jim Hood, and coast lawyer Al Hopkins. Hood has been a constant thorn in the side to the Barbour administration, and is pretty good about getting camera time. It is obvious that he has learned his political tricks from his predecessor, Mike Moore. Hopkins is a known quantity on the Coast, but his name ID doesn?t carry much further than that. This may be one of those races that Barbour?s coattails and direct influence can make a difference, but at the end of the day, will it be enough?

Prediction. The power of incumbency keeps Hood in office in a closer than expected contest.

In races this far down the ticket, name ID is a huge advantage. State Representative Stacey Pickering (nephew of Charles and cousin of Chip) will enjoy that advantage in the Republican primary. He will have a ready-built campaign machine and should have no problems against Tricia Lewis in the primary.

Though there are several candidates in the Democratic field, Forest County Administrator Mike Sumrall seems to be the candidate to beat in that primary.

Prediction. With Haley at the top of the ticket and Pickering?s name ID and political machine, Stacey Pickering will be your next Auditor.

Lester Spell will be running as the incumbent on the Republican side. Spell was at the center of the ?Beef Plant? controversy, but it is questionable about whether that issue carries any real political damage. He will run in that primary against his general election opponent from 2003, Max Phillips, who he beat in the last election as the 66 to 33%. Spell ran as a Democrat before switching to the Republican party after gaining the seat.

On the Democratic side, Rickey Cole, former Democratic Party Chairman will likely face the winner of Spell vs. Phillips.

Prediction. The power of incumbency keeps Spell in office.

With Katrina still fresh on voters minds, the Insurance Commissioner race will probably be the most interesting race in the history of that office. Haley Barbour has considered Dale a strong ally in the recovery and Dale has expressed continued dissatisfaction with the State Democratic Party leadership fueling some speculation that he might switch parties or run as an Independent. However, at deadline time, Dale filed as a Democrat and will face strong primary opposition from Gary Anderson. Anderson was the Democratic nominee for State Treasurer in 2003 and has the remnants of that campaign organization in tact.

Former State Senator Mike Chaney announced his intention to retire from the State Senate in February, but then threw his hat into the ring for Insurance Commissioner late in the game. He was a stalwart ally to Barbour in the State Senate and should be well funded.

Prediction. This race will likely come down to Dale vs. Chaney. Either way, Barbour wins.

Overall, Mississippi?s internal political landscape has permanently changed. We now have a viable two party system, where in the span of a decade, the majority of races will have tipped from almost all Democratic to mostly Republican. Barbour is a big reason for that. In early March, voters are already seeing Barbour flex his political and financial muscle by running a heavy volume of image-laden ads that define the successes of his term. Expect to see that fuel gains in the Legislature in close races, and the likely post-election party flipping of a few conservative Democrats in the State Legislature with that possibly leading to new leadership on the House side.

Add in the fact that Barbour could get drafted as a Vice Presidential candidate in the 2008 Presidential race, and all of these races take on added importance.

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