Robert Gray

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Robert Gray

Post by Admin on Sun Aug 09, 2015 3:08 pm

Sam R. Hall
The election of Robert Gray as the Democratic nominee for governor could have significant impact in the November general election. In fact, Gray could be a game-changer in both statewide and legislative elections — just not in favor of Democrats.
Vicki Slater was clearly the preferred choice among the Democratic establishment. Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole was even at her announcement, though political parties are not supposed to inject themselves or show favoritism in primary battles. Nevertheless, the party saw in Slater someone who could benefit the ticket.
Slater is a seasoned attorney and longtime Democratic activist. She’s well respected in Democratic circles across the state. She could have raised money from national donors, particularly those who specialize in funding women candidates. She could have helped put together targeted get out the vote efforts, which would have benefited Democrats in legislative races and Attorney General Jim Hood come November. And, Slater could have spoken to not only the more liberal base of the party, but also to women voters, hopefully giving Democrats a bit of a boost in turnout.
Now, before anyone gets carried away, Slater was never seen as a real threat to Gov. Phil Bryant. However, she would have forced Bryant to spend money on his race, including expensive television buys. The same can be said for Tim Johnson running against Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. Johnson isn’t a real threat, but Reeves can’t take him for granted.
Then, along comes a truck driver from Terry. It’s still not exactly known why he decided to run. His answers to that question have been rambling and unclear. Some say he was a Republican plant to force Slater to spend money in the Democratic primary. Perhaps some Republican did encourage him to do just that, though no evidence can be found to support such a theory. Plus, he flatly denies it. But even if we allow the idea that a Republican got him to enter the race, it is foolhardy to believe that his victory was due to a stealth mission by the GOP to steal the Democratic primary.
No, Gray’s victory is the result of two things:
Primarily, it is due to Slater’s failure to win enough votes. At the end of the day, her campaign simply failed to do its job. Not only did she have little name ID, most voters didn’t even know there was a Democratic primary for governor.
Which leads to the second reason for Gray’s victory — the current dismal state of the Mississippi Democratic Party. It is such a benign organization now that they can’t get their preferred candidate elected against two largely unknown, barely financed and poorly organized candidates.
Given Slater’s poorly run campaign and Democrats’ poorly run party, voters most likely chose either the first name on the ballot or the only male among the three gubernatorial candidates on their way down the list toward the local races in which they were actually interested. And the rest, as they say, is history. What also could be history, however, are Democrats’ dreams of retaking the House along with Attorney General Jim Hood’s re-election.
Gray provides the Democrats with nothing — no fundraising, no ground game, no voter bloc and no need for Bryant to spend a bunch of money on his re-election. As one top Republican official told me Wednesday, “When Gray got elected, it was worth at least $1 million to (Republican attorney general nominee) Mike Hurst.” That’s the low-ball estimate of how much Bryant and his supporters will now be able to funnel into a Hurst campaign since it’s not needed at the top of the ticket.
Furthermore, Bryant now has a new legacy he can pursue full-time on the campaign trail: flipping the last statewide office held by a Democrat to the GOP. If he so chooses, Bryant can invite Hurst to join his campaign caravan and travel the state. The governor is extremely popular, he’s good on the stump and he can turn out voters. His having nothing to do in his own race is a tremendous problem for Democrats.
But it’s not just Hood who gets hurt here. Democrats were hoping to mount a serious challenge to taking back the House or, if not that, at least increasing their numbers to the point that they could possibly cut a deal with a compromise candidate for speaker, ousting Philip Gunn and hopefully picking up a few committee chairmen in the process. Without cover and assistance in building a ground game from the top, that is more far-fetched than ever.
In fact, it’s not a stretch to see GOP donors funneling an extra $1 million to the legislative fight instead of to Bryant, who doesn’t need it. The Mississippi Democratic Trust, the unofficial campaign arm of House Democrats, have a much tougher fight on their hands, the least of which are incumbent legislative Democrats who have been targeted by the GOP. These races just got a lot more interesting as well.
While Gray seems like a nice man, an average Joe, a hard-working blue collar guy, he’s a nightmare for Mississippi Democrats. But he’s a nightmare of their own making, and it could cost them a near-fatal blow come November. As for Republicans, we may have just found in Robert Gray the GOP’s most beloved Democrat in Mississippi’s history.
Contact Sam R. Hall at srhall@jackson.gannett.com or (601) 961–7163. Follow @samrhall on Twitter.

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