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Mississippi to hold historic black-white runoff

By Hastings Wyman
Southern Political Report

August 17, 2011

For the first time in Mississippi’s history, a black gubernatorial candidate has advanced to the runoff of a major party. In the August 2 Democratic Primary, three-term mayor of Hattiesburg Johnny DuPree, an African-American, came in first with 43 percent of the vote, followed by 39 percent for Delta attorney Bill Luckett, his chief rival, who is white. DuPree and Luckett will face each other in a runoff on August 23. The winner will face Phil Bryant, who won the Republican nomination in the August 2 primary.

DuPree, 57, has vowed to avoid negative campaigning and in the runoff campaign has thus far stressed his own record in business and government. He benefited from the racial makeup of the Democratic Primary turnout and may do so again in the runoff. He also has the support of influential US Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS).  DuPree carried Hinds County (Jackson), the state’s largest Democratic bailiwick, by more than two-to-one, and a hotly contested runoff for sheriff there will encourage a high turnout in the gubernatorial runoff, which should help DuPree.

DuPree is also benefiting from the support of the two other Democrats who ran and lost in the first primary. High school history teacher William Bond Compton, 59, received 10 percent of the vote and former Yalobusha County tax assessor Guy Dale Shaw, 74, received 7 percent; both have endorsed DuPree.

On the downside, DuPree spent $430,000 in the first primary, only about half that of Luckett, and is likely to be outspent in the runoff as well.

Luckett, 62, is a successful Clarksdale lawyer and businessman. He is concentrating his fire on Bryant, the Republican nominee, calling him a “career politician.” Luckett is known in his hometown for opening two businesses in renovated buildings in downtown Clarksdale, the Ground Zero Blues Club and a restaurant. Black actor Morgan Freeman is a partner with him in these ventures. Freeman has also narrated some TV spots for Luckett.

Luckett should also get a boost from the endorsement of the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees. “Bill Luckett is standing up for state and local government employees, state retirees and teachers, and we are standing up with him,” said Brenda Scott, the group’s president, in a statement released Monday.  She added that Republican Bryant “has said that if he is elected to office there will be a smooth transition – more of the same – and that is what scares the Hell out of our public employees and retirees.”

An issue bubbling mostly in the background concerns whether or not Luckett fulfills the Mississippi requirement that a candidate for governor must be a resident of the state for five years. “Mule-Headed Mississippi,” a local blog, published two signed voter registration forms from neighboring Tennessee in which a William Luckett avowed that he was a resident of Tennessee, one dated 2007. According to one source, the matter has been discussed in the state’s Democratic Executive Committee. Should Luckett win the runoff, the issue may end up in court.

All things considered, “I would think DuPree has the upper hand,” says a long-time observer of the state’s politics, noting the importance of Congressman Thompson’s support, as well as DuPree’s appeal to black voters statewide.

Meanwhile, both runoff candidates have been working their opponent’s strongholds. DuPree is working black-majority counties in the Delta which went for Luckett, who hails from that area. Luckett is campaigning in Hinds County, which went heavily for DuPree in the primary, in hopes of diminishing DuPree’s strength there. In the first primary, the Southern half of the state went heavily for DuPree, the Northern half strongly for Luckett.



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