6/18/2014 6:00:00 AM PERRY/Campaigns, politics stir passion
By BRIAN PERRY
The dirtiest campaigns are those you're most closely invested in. For many, that means a local mayor's race or supervisor's race. Even when not used in press releases or paid media, whisper campaigns abound: divorces, bankruptcies and even simultaneous rumors that a married candidate is cheating on his wife with another woman and also a closet homosexual.
For candidates, campaign staff, volunteers and supporters the mission becomes not unlike the passions for a sports team. And those passions stir the political equivalent of accusations that athletes grades are adjusted, coaches violate recruiting rules and local police cover-up the misdeeds of star athletes. An opposing team totally routs you on the field; the answer is the quarterback was secretly paid to go to that university. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that he is better than your own quarterback, but it provides salve to the sting of defeat.
Friends who have been engaged in the Republican U.S. Senate Primary suggest to me that it has been so dirty, so uncivil, that it will be difficult for Republicans to come together and back the nominee. I've declined to write about that race in my columns since the launch of Mississippi Conservatives PAC which supports Senator Thad Cochran and in which I'm involved. I'll continue that practice.
Historically, heated and passionate campaigns are nothing new.
In 1991, Democrats fought a bruising primary when former Congressman Wayne Dowdy challenged incumbent Governor Ray Mabus. Mabus won, but many of the Dowdy supporters became "Fordice Democrats" and contributed to the victory of Republican Kirk Fordice over Mabus. (Fordice faced his own primary but the GOP united behind him in the campaign to "Save Us From Mabus.")
The 1998 Republican Primary to replace Congressman Mike Parker included fake mail pieces one of which was "an endorsement" by the ACLU of one candidate mailed to Republican voters; another mail piece appeared to come from one of the candidates with a promise to move into the district if elected. The campaign of Simpson County banker Phil Davis was investigated under the Halderman Act, a Nixon-era campaign reform law. Delbert Hosemann defeated Davis in the run-off but lost to then Southern District Transportation Commissioner Ronnie Shows.
The 1999 Republican gubernatorial Primary was hard fought featuring former Congressman Mike Parker, former Lieutenant Governor Eddie Briggs, a House committee chairman, a mayor and others. Parker squeezed through the primary without a run-off and went on to narrowly lose to then Democrat Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove who failed to get a majority of the vote and was chosen by the Mississippi House of Representatives. Did some Republicans go with Musgrove in the general as a result of the primary? With such a narrow win, they could have made the difference. But "Republicans for Musgrove" likely were more important during his 1995 win over Briggs for lieutenant governor when it was well known Fordice was displeased with Briggs.
During the 1999 Democratic Primary for lieutenant governor between Amy Tuck and Grey Ferris, a crudely crafted flyer was distributed which attempted to tie Ferris with his daughter's suicide. Some pointed the finger at Tuck partisans; others pointed the finger at Farris supporters attempting to sully Tuck. Whoever the source, it doesn't get much dirtier. Tuck won the primary and Democrats united behind her and she won the general election.
The 2007 gubernatorial Republican Primary between Phil Bryant and Charlie Ross, the 2008 Republican Primary for Mississippi's Third Congressional District and the 2011 Republican Primary for lieutenant governor all got nasty and heated, but the Republican nominee in each race won easily (or virtually unchallenged) in the general.
The 2008 race for Mississippi's First Congressional District is notable because the ultimate winner, Travis Childers, is the Democratic nominee for US Senate this year. In 2008, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis defeated former Tupelo Mayor Glenn McCullough in a run-off. Childers capitalized on regional differences to attract dissatisfied Republicans, as well hit Davis hard in his home county of DeSoto. Childers was defeated two years later by Republican Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo.
Incidentally, in a climate which feeds rumors and innuendo, little real dirt surfaced about Davis until well after the election when he was charged with the misuse of city funds and his wife sued another man for alienation of affection.
Hard fought and "dirty" campaigns are nothing new in Mississippi politics. Whether it is a race for sheriff, legislator or governor, people become invested in their candidate's success and the disappointment of losing can be rough.
Sometimes when your team loses, you support whichever team from the SEC moves forward because ultimately that is good for the conference and your school. But some Ole Miss or Mississippi State fans; or Alabama or Auburn fans; might never support the other school. Politics isn't much different.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.