State Democratic Party leaders and politicos on Wednesday were still trying to figure out what the !@#$ happened Tuesday night, when an unknown candidate with no financial or political backing won the party’s nomination for governor, handily dousing the assumed frontrunner.
They’re also wondering what it means for the party — already flagging as the state turns more red — in the long term and for down-ticket candidates this year in the short term.
“I’m calling every political consultant, anthropologist and witch doctor in the Southeast to help me understand what happened yesterday,” said Brandon Jones, director of the Mississippi Democratic Trust. “… Anybody who offers a clear-cut formula for yesterday is probably a little ahead of their skis right now.”
Political science professor and longtime observer of state politics Marty Wiseman said, “It’s the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen. … It’s a low point for the Democratic Party, which doesn’t need any more low points. You’d like to think it’s a perfectly pulled off conspiracy by the Republicans, but that’s too far a stretch.”
Terry truck driver and first-time candidate Robert Gray, who goes by “Silent Knight” as his CB handle, carried 79 of 82 counties in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. He pulled more than 147,000 votes, or 51 percent, to presumed frontrunner Vicki Slater’s 87,000 votes, or 30 percent, in a three-way race.
Slater, a politically active attorney, raised more than $235,000 for her campaign and pumped in thousands of her own money. Gray raised and spent zero. He bought no advertising. No yard signs. He made only a couple of public appearances. His own family didn’t know he was running, and he didn’t vote for himself.
Let me get the obvious joke out of the way and point out that Gray won having purchased no yard signs. It probably did not help Vicki Slater that the other woman in the race had a similarish name (Valerie Short) nor that Gray's name was listed first. Nor did it help that no one is expecting a Democrat to win the general election, although Slater was the best candidate they've had in years. From that perspective, this is a real shame. The Mississippi Democratic Party is never going to be able to improve its standing without some real national investment.
“You hear people talk about low-information voters or elections,” Cole [Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman] said. “I think this may have been one of those.”
Oh Mississippi Democratic Party, bless your hearts.