When Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Cindy Hyde-Smith to the U.S. Senate to fill the remaining term of Sen. Thad Cochran until this November’s special election, I received a call from a politically savvy friend. My friend held Hyde-Smith in high regard but was worried Josh Gregory and his partner’s firm, Frontier Strategies, were signed up her to direct her campaign. Frontier also directed Cochran’s 2014 campaign when Cochran narrowly defeated Republican primary challenger Chris McDaniel of Jones County. At one time, Gregory was regarded as sort of a boy wonder of political operatives in Mississippi. He did campaign work for former Gov. Haley Barbour and drove the political train that elected Bryant as lieutenant governor and then to two terms as governor. Gregory reportedly has also signed on to direct Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s 2019 race to succeed Tate Reeves as lieutenant governor. Gregory’s reputation took a hit this week when Hyde-Smith sent out a campaign fundraising letter saying she had the support of President Trump and Vice President Pence. She might and probably will eventually receive the endorsement of Trump, but when the letter was sent out, she had not.
On Tuesday I received two electronic versions of Hyde-Smith’s letter. It wasn’t much later in the day that Geoff Pender, political editor for The Jackson Clarion-Ledger wrote that while Hyde-Smith claimed she was supported by Trump, to date Trump and Pence had not endorsed her candidacy. Of course, Gregory can share the blame for this campaign foul-up with others. In Pender’s story, Jordan Russell, Hyde-Smith’s campaign manager, said the letter was a “drafting error” generated by an outside vendor hired by the campaign. What a pathetic response. I don’t care what outside vendor drafted the letter. As campaign
manager Russell, as well as Gregory, of course, should have reviewed the letter and caught the mistake. Russell, it should be noted, also worked in Cochran’s 2014 campaign which is credited to being poorly run when Cochran narrowly averted defeated to McDaniel. Previous to that, Russell was communications director for the late Congressman Alan Nunnelee. Communications director is a fancy term for what used to be called a press secretary. And of course, the candidate, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, should be near the top of the blame list for a fundraising letter that went out under her signature. It should also be noted that one of Mississippi’s most capable and savvy political operatives, Brad White, is Hyde-Smith’s chief of staff. While there are strict campaign and ethics rules regarding separation of congressional and campaign duties for official staff employees, a senator’s chief of staff has more leeway than most staff members. Even in his off duty hours, White should have been given the fundraising letter to review.
In tennis and basketball, you have what’s called “unforced errors.” Things have been going well since Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith, both as a senator and candidate in the November special election. Two recent polls show Hyde-Smith can win election to the U.S. Senate in her own right. Her campaign, however, did not need the unforced error that was made in the fundraising letter. The error also could have been avoided if the White House had done what should already had been done – give a wholehearted endorsement of Hyde-Smith. Despite some in the White House being gun shy from what happened in Alabama that resulted with Democrat Doug Jones winning the election to replace Jeff Sessions, pushing for President Trump to endorse Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith should be at the top of Gov. Bryant’s political plate.