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Election 2023: Pre-Primary Campaign...

Election 2023: Pre-Primary Campaign Roundup

By: Russ Latino ,    Frank Corder - August 7, 2023
Campaign Election 2023

Absentee ballots surge in final week, Madison Mayor endorses Chris McDaniel, Presley supporters and green energy line up behind GOP candidate Tanner Newman in race for Northern District PSC, Presley gets hitched, and more.

For candidates facing contested primaries, Tuesday’s Primary Election marks the end of months of work. The die is cast in most races. As candidates scurry in the final moments to get out their vote, a few stories have developed.

Crystal Ball Murky on Turnout

The prevailing wisdom among politicos for the last few weeks has been that turnout could be low, and if so, could impact races that might otherwise be locked. Nowhere has this vantage point been more pronounced than in analysis of the Republican Primary for Lt. Governor, where incumbent Delbert Hosemann is facing State Senator Chris McDaniel and relative-unknown Tiffany Longino.

Last week, Magnolia Tribune noted that absentee ballots requested were only at 26,946 as of Monday, July 31st. This put the total number of requests far behind the final 2015 and 2019 tallies of 37,704 and 42,096.

We noted that the number of requested ballots would climb, but did not anticipate the strength of the climb. Over the last week, absentee requests surged dramatically to eclipse both the 2015 and 2019 totals. The total number of requests finished at 45,199.

YearRepublican Primary Absentee RequestsDemocratic Primary Absentee RequestsTotal Absentee Requests

Even more telling is the continued shift out of the Democratic Primary and into the Republican Primary. This cycle, 23,048 of the absentee ballots were for the Republican Primary. By contrast, only 17,795 Republican Primary ballots were requested in 2019, an increase of more than 5,200 ballots.

Meanwhile, Democratic absentee ballot requests fell from 24,301 in 2019 to 22,151 this year. The late surge in absentees, combined with the shift into the Republican Primary by historically Democrat voters, could actually suggest high turnout. It could also reflect some other changing dynamics with how people vote. We will know for sure tomorrow night. Right now, the crystal ball is murky.

AG’s Office Launches Investigation into Anti-Hosemann Super PAC

The Mississippi Attorney General’s Office released a statement Friday afternoon saying they have alerted Invest in Mississippi PAC and Thomas Datwyler that an investigation has been opened into potential criminal violations under the Mississippi Election Code, as well as other statutes, pursuant to a complaint filed with their office on August 3, 2023.

The complaint was filed by Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann’s campaign claiming the PAC has violated state campaign finance and reporting laws.

READ MORE: Mississippi AG opens investigation into anti-Hosemann PAC

Invest in Mississippi PAC has been running ads across Mississippi attacking Hosemann ahead of the August 8th Primary. Hosemann said in a statement to Magnolia Tribune that the PAC and his main opponent on Tuesday are synonymous.

“The dark money PAC and Chris McDaniel are synonymous. They have dumped almost $1 million in this campaign in the last week to steal the Mississippi Lt. Governor’s race and your vote,” Hosemann said. “Do we really think a Washington dark money PAC cares about Mississippi citizens? Vote on August 8 to send them the answer.”

Invest in Mississippi PAC submitted its organization papers with the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office in July. The PAC lists a Wisconsin address with Datwyler shown as the Treasurer and Robert Phillips of Ohio listed as a Director. Datwyler also appeared as the contact on the Committee to Elect Chris McDaniel.

On their pre-primary finance report filed on August 2nd, Invest in Mississippi reports to have raised $885,750 this year from mostly four other PACs – American Jobs and Growth PAC (Washington D.C.), Defend U.S. PAC (Washington D.C.), Fund for a Working Congress (Maryland) and Save Our Constitution PAC (Ohio). Invest in Mississippi reports to have spent $440,467, with the majority going for ad buy through Media Ad Ventures for $432,942, leaving the PAC with $445,283 cash on hand.

Magnolia Tribune requested comment from Chris McDaniel’s campaign on Friday, but at press time had not received a response.

Mayor Mary Endorses Chris McDaniel in Lt. Governor’s Race

Last night, Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler endorsed Chris McDaniel in the Lt. Governor’s race. The move came after Butler described Lt. Governor Hosemann’s decision not to appear at a campaign event on Wednesday of last week as a “slap in the face.”

READ MORE: Madison Mayor calls Hosemann no show “slap in the face” as race for Lt. Governor enters home stretch

Butler and others in Madison County have been upset by rumors that the Lt. Governor had contemplated breaking up the Madison-Rankin Judicial District and placing Madison County with either Yazoo or Holmes County. Hosemann has denied that he would seek that change.

In her endorsement video, Mayor Butler alluded to knowledge of discussions to that effect had occurred. Sources within Madison County government that Magnolia Tribune spoke to on condition of anonymity expressed similar knowledge – that at one point, discussions about breaking up the judicial district had occurred.

It’s hard to imagine that this endorsement, this late in the game and over such a localized issue, will have much impact on the outcome of the race, unless, for some reason, the race is close. If you are McDaniel, you are wishing that things like Ted Cruz’s endorsement, and now Mayor Mary’s, would have come earlier in the cycle to help build momentum.

Democrat Presley’s supporters, green energy companies line up behind GOP candidate Tanner Newman in race for Northern District PSC

The race to replace Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brandon Presley on the Public Service Commission is one of the more interesting ones on the ballot. An early contender, Mandy Gunasekara, was removed from the ballot over a residency challenge.

That legal decision left only Chris Brown, a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and Tanner Newman, a 28-year old official with the City of Tupelo, in the Republican Primary.

The Democratic Party did not field a candidate, but some of Presley’s more prominent supporters and party-mates have aligned with Newman, according to campaign finance filings. Among reported gifts for the month of July were former Democratic Congressman Travis Childers, Presley political consultant Tucker Marcum, and former trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs, who infamously went to prison, along with his son Zach, for attempting to bribe a judge.

The eldest Scruggs gave Newman $15,000. Son Zach Scruggs’ LinkedIn page reflects previous employment in the renewable energy sector. A separate LinkedIn page under the name “Zach Scruggs” identifies the page owner as a vice president of a company called SolarBlue LLC. SolarBlue LLC’s Bloomberg profile describes it as a renewable energy developer. Magnolia Tribune has not been able to confirm that the two pages are owned by the same “Zach Scruggs.”

Newman has also received support from Charlottesville, Virginia-based APEX Clean Energy Holdings, San Francisco-based Southern Spirit Transmission, McKinney, Texas-based EDP Renewables of North America, and from employees of American Clean Power in Allen, Texas.

Mississippi law prevents candidates for the Public Service Commission from receiving donations, whether directly or indirectly, from regulated utilities. There have been several questions raised during the course of this election cycle whether renewable energy companies fall within the definition of a regulated utility, most notably in a massive dossier released by removed PSC candidate Gunasekara.

At least one of Newman’s donors, Southern Spirit Transmission, has had business recently before the Public Service Commission, when it applied for a “certificate of public convenience and necessity for the proposed Southern Cross Transmission Project.” PSC records reflect testimony given in support of that petition in February of 2023.

Newman’s opponent, Brown, has largely self-funded his campaign after selling a successful RV and camper retail business.

Presley Ties the Knot

Speaking of Brandon Presley, the 45-year-old is apparently a bachelor no more. He and Katelyn Mabus Presley both posted wedding photographs on Twitter.

Presley Supports Open Primaries

In addition to getting hitched, Presly came out in support of open primaries on Monday morning, the day before the 2023 Primary Election in Mississippi.

On Monday, Presley posted on social media:

“The need for OPEN primary voting is clear on days like tomorrow when folks have to vote in local elections on one party ballot and then miss other races until November. Mississippians should be able to vote for who they want to in every election, regardless of political party.”

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ:
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Frank Corder

Frank Corder is a native of Pascagoula. For nearly two decades, he has reported and offered analysis on government, public policy, business and matters of faith. Frank’s interviews, articles, and columns have been shared throughout Mississippi as well as in national publications such as the Daily Caller. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, providing insight and commentary on the inner workings of the Magnolia State. Frank has served his community in both elected and appointed public office, hosted his own local radio and television programs, and managed private businesses all while being an engaged husband and father. Email Frank: