Political Silly Season in Mississippi is Almost Over

In sports, the “silly season” is used most often in reference to NASCAR’S offseason when rumors about drivers switching teams, crew chiefs switching drivers, etc. are in full swing. There’s little doubt that Mississippi politics is having its own version of a silly season with only a few days to go before the Feb. 27 qualifying deadline for statewide, district, legislative, and local candidates. Even in many legislative districts the list of qualified candidates is thin and there will certainly be more candidates jumping into contests before the end of the day next Friday. Here are some of the big “ifs” and discussions that are prime topics for the political silly season…

Attorney General Jim Hood will be difficult to beat. Jackson attorney Russ Latino is considering a race for AG. Since Hood is seeking another term, Latino has a lot to prove if he and other Republicans expect Latino to have more success than did Hood’s three previous GOP challengers.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann announced Monday morning that he will seek a third term. Prior to that, the betting on Hosemann to run for re-election was about 70-80 percent. He has a campaign war chest of more than $1 million and made noise for months that he would challenge Tate Reeves this year. A Hosmann-Reeves contest would have been a battle of political heavyweights. Now, more likely, Hosemann will run for governor against Reeves in 2019. So why was Hosemann slow to qualify for re-election? The most common speculation is that Hosemann just likes playing the game.

Pickering will have to answer a lot of questions

+ Despite qualifying earlier for re-election, State Auditor Stacey Pickering made it clear at the Madison County Republican Club dinner last week that he will seek another term. There had been some doubts. His only opponent at this point is Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins-Butler. Some view the mayor as a polarizing figure but all she has done is win nine terms as mayor and stomped her opponent with over 70 percent of the vote in her last re-election.

In the year end campaign finance report for 2014, Pickering only showed $27,222 cash on hand. That’s not much for a statewide candidate and is even far less than reported on hand by many incumbent state senators and representatives. Pickering will have to answer a lot of questions during the campaign. It is well known he has been looking for a higher paying job than that as state auditor—either in the private or public sector. He supposedly considered such an offer recently. Pickering will be challenged to respond that if elected,  will he promise to serve his full four-year term. There will also be questions about expenditures from his campaign account for the past few years. In many cases it would appear some of his spending was for personal expenses than what is usually associated with normal campaign expenses.

The third factor is if Sen. Michael Watson joins the race with Pickering and Hawkins-Butler. The rumors have persisted for a long time that if Pickering wins another term he would resign at some point, be appointed to a higher state paying job, and Gov. Bryant would appoint Watson, who is very close to Bryant, for the remainder of Pickering’s term as auditor. Note that Watson sat at Bryant’s table at the Madison County Republican dinner. If Pickering had decided not to run, there is little doubt that Watson would have been a candidate for auditor. Actually, Watson’s chances could be even stronger in a three-person race with Pickering and Hawkins-Butler.

+ The $64 question: what will Chris McDaniel do? No doubt McDaniel would like to challenge Reeves and many of his supporters are urging him to do just that. However, if McDaniel would challenge Reeves and lose, he would also have to give up his seat representing Jones County in the state senate. McDaniel and his ego would lose a big platform for keeping himself in the news. In a recent interview with The Clarion-Ledger’s editorial board, McDaniel indicated his druthers would be to serve at the federal level rather than at the state level. A race against U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo in 2016 would be a possibility. Even more interesting is that McDaniel’s closest political pal, Watson, has seriously thought in the past about running against Palazzo as well.

Has McDaniel’s Senate Conservative Coalition been diluted?

It has been known for several weeks that most of the members of the Senate Conservative Coalition would support Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ re-election campaign. Reeves’ campaign announced that every Republican member of the state senate endorsed his re-election except for four. It was not hard to figure three of them: McDaniel and his two closest political sidekicks in the state, Watson and Melanie Sojourner. The fourth is Perry Lee of Mendendall. When the Conservative Coalition was first announced, the 11 members were pretty much considered an anti-Reeves faction in the Mississippi Senate. Obviously, some original members of that group now feel it is politically better to dance with Reeves than take the dance floor with McDaniel.

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