Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Republican Primaries

In Mississippi, Republicans proudly claim seven of the eight statewide elected officials (in addition to both U.S. Senators and one of the four Mississippi Congressmen). They are:

Governor - Haley Barbour
Lieutenant Governor - Phil Bryant
Secretary of State - Delbert Hosemann
Treasurer - Tate Reeves
Auditor - Stacey Pickering
Insurance Commissioner - Mike Chaney
Commissioner of Agriculture - Lester Spell

All of these Republicans are outstanding public servants, and I am certain that some of them aspire to higher elective office during Mississippi's 2011 statewide elections. The problem they will face is how to engage in competitive Republican Primaries without spliting the Party and handing election victories to the Democrats.

Raucous Republican Primary elections are a relatively new phenomenon in Mississippi, but we had two recent Congressional races where the Republican Primary elections were violently acrimonious. In Mississippi's First Congressional District, the loser in the primary refused to endorse the winner, leading to a Democratic general election victory. In Mississippi's Third Congressional District, charges and counter-charges of fraud were the headline issues in the Republican Primary. In apparent disgust, Republicans nominated one of the candidates who declined to engage in mud-slinging - Gregg Harper of Brandon. Harper was ultimately sent to Washington after a general election victory over a weak Democrat and had a huge crowd at his election-night victory party.

Mississippi Republicans are justly proud of their statewide elected officials and of the progress their Party has made in recent years. But the vast majority of them do not want their statewide officials to act like Democrats and conduct ugly Republican Primary campaigns in their quest for higher office. Such a spectacle in our statewide elections, when most of our candidates are running, would split the Party, leave lasting scars, and inflict permanent damage from which the Party would not soon recover.

My advice to our 2011 Republican candidates is to ignore the consultants and staffers who have a private agenda and tell us that "politics is a contact sport, even in Republican Primaries." They also tell us that "negative campaigns win elections."

These statements may or may not be true in general election campaigning, but my guess is that in Mississippi, Republicans will not tolerate negative campaigning in the 2011 primary elections.

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