Candidates ramp up for two Mississippi statewide runoffs

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, August 4, 2011

Candidates for two statewide offices in Mississippi face the tough task of keeping supporters motivated and getting them back to the polls for Aug. 23 primary runoffs.

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Clarksdale attorney and businessman Bill Luckett are competing for the Democratic nomination for governor. They emerged from a four-person field Tuesday.

State Personnel Board director Lynn Fitch of Madison and Sen. Lee Yancey of Brandon are seeking the Republican nomination for treasurer. They were the top two in a three-person race.

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Runoffs aren’t easy. Just ask Eric Clark, who’s now head of Mississippi’s community college system.

In August 1995, Clark and Amy Tuck emerged from a three-person Democratic primary for secretary of state, which was then an open seat because the incumbent was running for governor.

Clark won a nail-biter of a runoff over Tuck, getting 50.3 percent to her 49.7 percent. With 425,681 votes cast in the runoff, they were separated by 2,375 votes. Clark then went on to win the general election that November, and he served three terms as secretary of state. (Tuck was elected lieutenant governor as a Democrat in 1999, then switched to the Republican Party and won a second term in the job in 2003.)

“God bless the folks that are in runoffs for statewide offices,” said Clark, who’s now politically neutral because of his current job.

“The first point is, they’re exhausted, The second point is they’re broke,” Clark said Wednesday. “They have to wrench up their energy level and their determination. They need to get at least one good night’s sleep — and they need to have lots of chocolate the next three weeks.”

Candidates didn’t slow down much between election night and the first day of runoff campaigning. DuPree was with supporters at the Hattiesburg train depot Tuesday night. On Wednesday, he attended to several duties as mayor, including attending a convocation at Hattiesburg High School and meetings at city hall. He said he also made several campaign calls to thank supporters and raise money.

DuPree said he was outspent by Luckett and most of the candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary, but still had the most votes in either primary.

“I think it shows that our message resonated,” DuPree said in a phone interview.

Luckett on Tuesday night was with supporters at his Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale. By noon Wednesday, he was shaking hands with people at a restaurant and a grocery store in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood.

“Sir, may I give you one of these?” Luckett said, handing one man a campaign postcard. “Please keep me in mind, will you?”

The man nodded as he glanced at the card, which had a photo of Luckett with his partner in two Clarksdale businesses, Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

Luckett told potential voters that he wants to send Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant into retirement. Bryant easily captured the Republican nomination for governor by defeating four candidates Tuesday.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting statewide, Bryant had 167,179 votes, or 59.34 percent, in the Republican primary. He was followed by Pass Christian construction executive Dave Dennis with 72,678 votes, or 25.8 percent; Moss Point businessman Ron Williams with 25,107, or 8.91 percent; Pearl River County supervisor Hudson Holliday with 13,210 votes, or 4.69 percent; and former state employee James Broadwater of Byram with 3,545 votes, or 1.26 percent. With 99 percent of precincts reporting in the Democratic primary governor, DuPree had 171,087 votes, or 43.35 percent; Luckett had 155,001 votes, or 39.27 percent; high school teacher William Bond Compton Jr. of Meridian had 39,119 votes, or 9.91 percent; and retired tax assessor Guy Dale Shaw of Coffeeville had 29,456, or 7.46 percent.

Bryant has raised the most money in the governor’s race. Independent Will Oatis of Silver Creek also will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, and rival factions of the Reform Party want to put a candidate in the race.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting in the Republican primary for treasurer, Fitch had 101,529 votes, or 37.65 percent; Yancey had 90,526 votes, or 33.57 percent; and Lucien Smith of Jackson, an attorney and former budget adviser for Gov. Haley Barbour, had 77,641 votes, or 28.79 percent.

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran was unopposed for the Democratic nomination for treasurer. The feuding Reform Party factions want to put a candidate in the race in November.

Smith said Wednesday that he could decide by next week whether he’ll publicly support either of the remaining candidates in the Republican runoff.

In separate interviews, both Fitch and Yancey said they held strategy meetings and worked on fundraising Wednesday.

“We’re going full throttle, 24/7, getting ready for the runoff,” Fitch said.