Statewide election year political speaking is always amped up under the Pavilion at the Neshoba County Fair. If you missed the fair, you can catch every speech on Wednesday and Thursday on our YouTube channel as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
Almost as important as the speeches themselves in evaluating where a candidate really stands in a campaign is the amount of organization (signs, volunteers, supporters in the Pavilion). By that measure, a few campaigns stood out. Delbert Hosemann was probably the most organized candidate at the Fair this year and Jay Hughes was a close second. For gubernatorial campaigns, you’d expect a pretty high level of organization and the campaigns of Tate Reeves, Jim Hood, Bill Waller and Robert Foster all had vocal supporters and real presence.
Though he’s only running for re-election to his House seat, House Speaker Philip Gunn gave a very uncharacteristic speech at Neshoba. Usually known for being folksy and self-deprecating, he came out in a very no nonsense way pushing back on the narrative that the Mississippi media establishment is desperately trying to sell that Mississippi is destitute and failing. He called it “hogwash” that Mississippi is not improving in a variety of areas including roads, education and healthcare and made forceful policy cases for conservative governing principals and in a way provided some cover for the rest of his fellow Republicans.
In terms of the mechanics of just speech giving, three really stood out in my mind. Phil Bryant recapped his political accomplishments in his last speech there citing without a note the laundry list of things he is proud of. He even gigged the media assembled by saying there’d be a lot to “fact check”. He remains his political generation’s most gifted speaker.
But the speech that really stood out was the one from the man that Bryant appointed as Auditor, Shad White.
Although he doesn’t have a ton of sexy material to work with as State Auditor, his level of preparation and delivery was tops, and I think he is serving notice that his political future is exceptionally bright. The last speech, again on delivery, that was notable was that of Andy Taggart. He imbued an emotion and a clarity of thought to his remarks that no other candidate did.
There are four major races that deserve at least a little more analysis in terms of their presence at Neshoba.
Republican Tate Reeves and Democrat Jim Hood generally stayed on their slow motion collision course with each other. While Republicans Bill Waller and Robert Foster made their own cases and had lots of supporters to cheer them on, it didn’t seem like much changed on the Republican side of the equation in the last week before the August 6 primary.
Likewise, leading Democrat challengers Robert Shuler Smith and Velesha P. Williams as well as a host of other Democrats tried to make their case to lead the Democrat party.
Interestingly, Hood seemed to spend most of his effort running away from the Democrat party, whose nomination he seeks and Reeves seemed content to continue to try and tag Hood with his party’s label.
Again, two other candidates out there that lurk are “Big” Dave Singletary, who donned “weed” socks and a golf shirt to his first Neshoba appearance, and Bob Hickingbottom. Singletary is running on a pro-marijuana platform and Hickingbottom is a Jacksonian who has been involved in politics. Singletary has been shown in polls to be taking 3-4% of the vote. Hickingbottom, who is black, is running as the Constitution Party candidate and may give black voters disaffected with Jim Hood in November a place to express a protest vote. But the combination of those two could actually be relevant down the home stretch.
Republican LG candidate Shane Quick had one of the more, shall we say, interesting speeches at the Fair. But this is still a two person race between Republican Delbert Hosemann and Democrat Jay Hughes. Again, Hughes, like Hood, knows that the Democrat party label is a drag for him and is trying desperately to get outside the party label. Both Hughes and Hosemann are very disciplined and well funded candidates. Hosemann remains a heavy favorite, but that race will be fun to watch.
Secretary of State
This race will be decided in the Republican primary. Michael Watson and Sam Britton have been going toe to toe. Watson seemed to be the better organized, but this one could go either way. The winner will run against Johnny Dupree, who was defeated as the Democrat nominee for Governor in 2011 by Phil Bryant.
The aforementioned Andy Taggart gave a stemwinder of a speech. Mark Baker had a big campaign organizations there and also gave a very animated speech arguing that he’s clearly the most reflexively conservative candidate in the race as he took shots at both Lynn Fitch (over her donors and law experience) and Andy Taggart. Lynn Fitch ignored the attacks and sought to burnish her credentials for AG with her support for Trump. This race is most certainly headed for a runoff.
The winner of that fight will be heavily favored over Jennifer Riley-Collins, a retired Colonel and former attorney with the ACLU of Mississippi.
Finally, just a note that Y’all Politics has committed to provide the most complete Neshoba County Fair political coverage available. You can follow us on our Youtube channel as speeches are continually uploaded. Sarah Ulmer and Courtney Carter literally lapped the field in their coverage of the event on social media, and the archival value of making speeches available have tremendous impact to holding politicians accountable before and after elections.