By the time Mississippi Republicans go to the polls on March 13, 2012, to cast their presidential primary preference votes, the race for the GOP nomination could be pretty much over. But that hasn't stopped Mississippians from getting involved in campaigns as contributors and leaders.

According to data as of November 14, 2011, from the Center for Responsive Politics, Mississippians have voted the most with their checkbooks for Rick Perry ($50,099), Ron Paul ($38,832) and Mitt Romney ($24,325). Other candidates have brought in less: Michele Bachmann at $11,000; Herman Cain at $4,600; Newt Gingrich at $4,150; and Jon Huntsman at $250. President Barack Obama has raised $40,080 from Mississippi for his reelection campaign - a third of his combined rivals.

But those numbers should change dramatically after recent fundraising trips into Mississippi by Perry and Romney.

Perry visited the state on Nov. 17 for fundraisers in West Point, Pass Christian and Jackson. Perry supporter Henry Barbour, a partner at the lobbying firm Capitol Resources, said the visit resulted in $180,000 in pledges.

The Pass Christian fundraiser was held in the home of Dave and Jane Dennis. Dave Dennis was a GOP gubernatorial candidate this year who lost the Republican nomination to Phil Bryant. But it appears both Dennis and Bryant are supporting Perry.

According to a Politico article in June by Jonathan Martin, "Bryant met with Perry following the speech [at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans] and, in a brief interview, openly acknowledged that he had urged the Texan to run and said he would support him."

Romney attended a fundraiser luncheon on Nov. 30 with about 200 attendees at the Jackson home of Randy James, an executive at Pruet Oil Company. According to published reports, the suggested contribution was $1,000 a couple.

"We will raise more money at this event from Mississippi than any other candidate this cycle," said Austin Barbour, a partner at the Jackson-based government affairs firm Clearwater Group and one of Romney's national finance chairmen. He said they hit their Mississippi fundraising goal in just eight days of calling and expects to have well exceeded their contributions target.

Whether or not
Mississippi's delegates will impact the
outcome, Mississippi's operatives and
contributors are already making a
difference.


If you think political conversations are interesting at your family's holiday dinner table, consider that Austin Barbour (Romney campaign) and Henry Barbour (Perry campaign) are brothers. The two are nephews of Gov. Haley Barbour who has said he does not expect to endorse a candidate during the primary.

"Mississippians are excited about Mitt Romney. Mississippians are opening their checkbooks for him because they know he is the candidate who can beat Barack Obama and he has the background to fix our economy and get America working again," said Austin Barbour.

Romney has other Mississippi connections as well, from his personal aide all the way up to his chief campaign advisor. Romney's personal aide - or "body man" - on the campaign trail is Garrett Jackson of Brookhaven.

Mississippi's senior U.S. Senator, Thad Cochran, has endorsed Romney and former Sen. Trent Lott - now a lobbyist with the Washington, D.C., firm Patton Boggs - is also publicly supporting Romney.

Stuart Stevens, originally from Jackson, Miss., serves as senior advisor for Romney.

Austin Barbour praised Stevens. "I've worked with Stuart on Haley's campaign for governor and Roger Wicker's Senate campaign and he is proof that Mississippi produces great political talent," he said. "Here is one of the country's leading political thinkers and strategists who got his start in Mississippi. He is the Karl Rove - the David Axelrod - of the Romney campaign." He noted Stevens did the media consulting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, an experience Stevens chronicled in his fifth book, "The Big Enchilada: Campaign Adventures with the Cockeyed Optimists from Texas Who Won the Biggest Prize in Politics."

In addition to politics, Stevens has authored travel books, written for television shows and is exactly the kind of quirky and renegade genius one expects to find in a Southern gothic novel.

He served as Romney's media consultant in 2008 but, according to a recent story in the New York Times by Ashley Parker, he "emerged from an internal power struggle in 2008 to become Mr. Romney's senior strategist this time around, a driving force behind the campaign's relentless focus on jobs, the effort to help Mr. Romney connect more with voters and the newly aggressive strategy against Gov. Rick Perry of Texas."

Less than five weeks out before the first votes of the 2012 Republican Primary are cast in the Iowa Caucus, followed shortly by the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, Mississippi Republicans are lining up behind their picks to challenge Barack Obama. Whether or not Mississippi's delegates will impact the outcome, Mississippi's operatives and contributors are already making a difference.



Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. He managed the campaign of Dave Dennis and is not related to Rick Perry. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.