Voters to pick a new leader

Published 2:05 am Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mississippi’s two gubernatorial nominees, Republican Phil Bryant and Democrat Johnny DuPree, spent Saturday traveling the northern part of the state in their final push toward Tuesday’s general election.

Bryant, who has outspent DuPree more than 7-to-1, was urging Republicans not to be complacent as he seeks to succeed GOP Gov. Haley Barbour, who’s limited to two terms. DuPree was trying to solidify support among Democrats, emphasizing that he has been outspent in every campaign in which he’s had an opponent.

Polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday as voters elect eight statewide officials, including a new governor, treasurer and commissioner of agriculture.

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Bryant, 56, of Brandon, is finishing one term as lieutenant governor. DuPree, 57, is in his third term as mayor of Hattiesburg. There are no third-party or independent candidates running for governor.

While the two nominees have largely avoided criticizing each other, Republican leaders in recent days — including Bryant and Barbour — have been saying a GOP win in red-state Mississippi will give the party momentum as it tries to unseat Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.

DuPree has not responded to the tactic, saying he is focusing on telling voters about his own ideas and his record of avoiding tax increases and attracting private-sector jobs as mayor of what’s now Mississippi’s fourth-largest city.

In an email to supporters Friday, DuPree touted three endorsements he has received, from comedian and actor Bill Cosby; from former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, a Democrat who represented Mississippi’s 2nd District in the U.S. House in the late 1980s and early 1990s before joining President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet; and from Ron Williams, a Gulf Coast businessman who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor this year.

“I think Ron William’s endorsement shows the reach of this campaign,” DuPree wrote. “Our message of restructuring education, creating jobs through small business development and expanding rural access to health care is resonating across the state and across party lines.”

Mississippi has had Republican governors four of the past five terms. Kirk Fordice of Vicksburg won the 1991 race, becoming the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and serving two terms. He was followed by Democrat Ronnie Musgrove of Batesville. Barbour, a Yazoo City native who’d been a top-tier Washington lobbyist, unseated Musgrove in 2003.

“There has never been one Republican governor followed into office by another Republican governor,” Bryant said Thursday at a rally in Rankin County. “I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready to make some history.”

DuPree is the first black candidate to win a major-party nomination for the Mississippi governorship. While he has acknowledged the milestone, he doesn’t dwell on it. He’s been campaigning designed to appeal to a wide swath of voters.

Two-term state Treasurer Tate Reeves of Flowood, a 37-year-old Republican, is expected to be elected lieutenant governor on Tuesday. No Democrat is in the race for the state’s second-highest office, and Reeves’ only opponent is the Reform Party’s Tracella Lou O’Hara Hill of Petal, who has spent only $200 on her campaign.

Candidates in the treasurer’s race are Republican Lynn Fitch of Madison, Democrat Connie Moran of Ocean Springs and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara of Hattiesburg.

Fitch, 50, has raised the most money in the race. She has been executive director of the state Personnel Board the past two years, and is on leave during the campaign. She spent five years as deputy director of the state Department of Employment Security. She started her legal career on the staff of then-Attorney General Ed Pittman. As an assistant attorney general, Fitch represented several state entities, including the treasurer’s office and the Bond Commission. She was a staff attorney for the state House of Representatives and has worked as a bond attorney in private practice.

“I can start in, day one, be ready to go,” Fitch said this past week. “I understand our finance process. I know how to run an agency, going to be a great team to work with. I’m a team player. I’m excited about working for job creation, for education across our state and really moving our state forward.”

Moran, 55, was elected mayor a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina 2005 and has overseen the city’s recovery. She has been an economist at the World Trade Organization in Geneva, and for five years in the 1990s she was managing director of Mississippi’s European trade office in Frankfurt, Germany. After returning to Mississippi, Moran served three years as economic development director for coastal Jackson County. She also has run a marketing and economic development consulting firm.

“I’ve worked to create jobs for Mississippians at the international, state and local levels,” Moran said last week at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob social gathering.

She said that as mayor, she has cut Ocean Springs’ budget 13 percent this year and 15 percent last year, reduced property taxes and maintained the highest bond rating among the state’s Gulf Coast cities. “I know what it means to be CEO of a small town,” Moran said.

Running in the agriculture race are Republican state Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven; Democrat Joel Gill, who’s mayor of Pickens; and the Reform Party’s Cathy Toole of Biloxi.

Hyde-Smith, 52, is the top fundraiser in the race. She and her husband, Mike, are cattle farmers and partners in Lincoln County Livestock, where weekly cattle auctions are held. She is a three-term state senator, serving as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee the past two terms. She was a Democrat before switching to the Republican Party this past December.

“In Mississippi, we produce some of the cheapest, safest food you will ever consume, because that’s what it’s all about,” Hyde-Smith said.

Gill, 59, a longtime cattleman, said at Hobnob this past week that global trade agreements have hurt Mississippi agriculture.

“The folks at the top, the globalists, are not interested in helping the small producers,” Gill said this past week at Hobnob.

Democrat Jim Hood of Brandon is seeking a third term as attorney general. He’s being challenged by Republican Steve Simpson of Gulfport, a former public safety commissioner.

Hood, 49, has raised more campaign cash than Simpson. Hood is campaigning on protecting children from online bullies and predators, prosecuting other cybercrimes and reducing the domestic violence rate with programs to change batterers’ behavior.

Simpson, 52, has criticized Hood for not joining several other states in suing to try to block the federal health care overhaul that President Obama signed into law last year. Simpson also says his experience as a former circuit judge prepares him to become attorney general.