Thursday, April 23, 2015

#MS01 May Just Be A "BS Nest": Secretary of State Releases Sample Ballot

The Secretary of State's Office provided this sample ballot. Based on the immutable law of alphabetical order and the coincidental combination of candidates, the ballot spells "B.S. N.E.S.T." downward using the first six candidates' first initials. Is this a sign of intelligent design in our democratic process? Or just more evidence of chaos in the electoral universe?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

UPDATE: Something Rotten in Lowndes County? Tagert's MDOT Boys Take Down Candidate Signs in #MS01

This past weekend I expressed my opinion that Trent Kelly may have abused his office by encouraging or maybe even planning canvassing operations for a federal campaign with his state taxpayer-funded office staff by using three of his Assistant District Attorneys in one day of campaigning.

Circumstantial evidence now points to another candidate possibly abusing his office. I predicted on Saturday that this candidate may also be using state taxpayer-funded employees and resources to help his own federal campaign. The other candidate I mentioned also happens to be the other frontrunner: Mike Tagert, the Transportation Commissioner for the Northern District of Mississippi.

Television station WTVA just reported that the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) removed 70+ road signs in Lowndes County.

MDOT is an agency that is overseen by three Transportation Commissioners, including Mike Tagert in the Northern District, which includes Lowndes County.

While MDOT is entirely within its rights to remove road signs if they are actually on state rights of way, I find it interesting that Lowndes County seems to be singled out as the place to enforce this particular rule at this time.

Lowndes County is in Tagert's expected stronghold, the Southern part of the First District. While Tagert faces two favorite son candidates in Lowndes County in Boyce Adams and Sam Adcock, this area generally favors Tagert over Kelly. Therefore, removing signs for other candidates inures to the benefit of… you guessed it: Mike Tagert.

UPDATE: The WTVA story was not specific as to which candidates' signs had been impounded by MDOT, but a Columbus Dispatch story from yesterday seems to suggest that one rival candidate of Transportation Commissioner Mike Tagert's in Lowndes County was disproportionately affected by MDOT's enforcement discretion.

According to the story in yesterday's Columbus Dispatch, MDOT removed seven Boyce Adams signs. A Lowndes County businessman, Adams presents the greatest challenge to Tagert's supremacy in the Southern part of the First District.

MDOT also removed and stored six signs belonging to the campaign of Tea Party candidate Ed Holliday. Some of the larger signs were estimated to be worth $250 each; MDOT's procedure for the legal confiscations requires that the agency hold the signs for at least two weeks to allow candidates some time to retrieve them.

Meanwhile, only one Mike Tagert sign was found at the MDOT impound lot -- presumably a sign that the employees of MDOT were impartial enforcers of the rules.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Everybody Loves Reagan, Kelly Hates the IRS, Felons Deserve Voting Rights, & Other #MS01 Tupelo Debate Takeaways

My favorite moments at the Tupelo Debate tonight in #MS01 included some surprises, but the one thing that did not surprise me was how much love these Mississippi Congressional candidates showed for a Hollywood actor named Reagan.

The most entertaining question of the night was which American Presidents the candidates would choose if they could reconstruct Mount Rushmore.

Without exception, every Republican chose Reagan. And Daniel Sparks said he would put "four pictures of Reagan" on Rushmore -- a half-answer I hoped his school teacher parent would have whipped him for when he got home.

Sam Adcock's Big Stick

Sam Adcock said he would add Harry Truman to his monument, because he admired the leadership Truman showed when he "spoke softly and carried a big stick." The other candidates and apparently the moderators were going to let him get away with that until finally the only Democrat on the stage, Walter Zinn, corrected Adcock: it was Teddy Roosevelt, not Harry Truman, to whom history attributes both the proverb itself and the leadership style of "speak softly and carrying a big stick." Based on this and other smart ass liberal truth busting, I'm guessing Zinn won't be invited to anymore official GOP functions like this debate sanctioned and hosted by the Lee County Republican Party.

Nancy Collins Lost Her Head and Trent Kelly Hates the IRS

State Senator Nancy Collins forgot her fourth head on Rushmore in a moment slightly reminiscent of Rick Perry in the 2012 debate when he spaced off and forgot which federal agencies he'd abolish. In general, I thought Collins disappointed this time. She basically referred to a Mississippi legislative junket to Israel that dealt with Iran divestment every time she spoke, and she sounded less confident each time she told the story. I'm starting to wonder if her claim that Netanyahu literally and personally asked her to pass an Iran divestment bill in Mississippi is a bit exaggerated in its details. Anyway, her performance was like when Perry forgot which agencies he'd abolish and Ron Paul had to help him remember all of them.

Speaking of abolishing agencies, there was a strange and not-so-statesmanlike debate gimmick wherein each candidate was provided a paddle to show the audience when they agreed or disagreed with any other candidate or with a question posed to all candidates. I don't know why the Lee County GOP didn't just send a survey out; in real life, unless you're on Meet the Press, you get to research and think about issues before providing your position on the issue.

In any event, using this paddle, Trent Kelly was one of the only mainstream candidates to agree that the IRS should be abolished. I wonder if he'll qualify that position in the near future or if he'll elaborate on any ideas to replace the IRS such as a flat tax that hurts accountants and corporations or a consumption tax that hurts the poor.

Many Candidates Support Restoring Voting Rights for Felons

One of the "Holy Smokes" moments came in a rapid-fire debating round when the candidates were asked if they supported restoring voting rights to criminals convicted of non-violent crimes. At least half of the candidates raised their agree paddle, including Trent Kelly. I did not notice which side Tagert chose, but some of the GOP folks in the audience gasped.

I thought this was a courageous moment for those who supported restoring voting rights to people who made the mistake of, for example, getting caught doing the wrong thing with the wrong crowd in their youth.

Mike Tagert Says He Will Not Support Impeaching Obama, While Boyce Adams Says Several People In the Obama Administration Should Be In Prison

Just as Kelly had a courageous moment in supporting certain felons' voting rights, Mike Tagert stood up to the far right by saying unequivocally that he will not try to impeach President Obama over his executive actions on immigration.

Tagert said that Obama was in his last two years, and impeaching him would be a pointless waste that would result in another Democrat being elected in 2016. Instead, Tagert suggested that Congress should focus on helping a Republican win the White House in 2016.

Boyce Adams, on the other hand, said that several people in the Obama Administration should be in prison; he did not clarify who or for what. It's too bad that the GOP was in charge of this debate. The candidates should really explain responses such as that one. 

Boyce Adams Loves Him Some George W. Bush

Boyce Adams also believes George W. Bush should be on Mount Rushmore. I'm guessing this has something to do with Adams' time working in the Bush Administration, but his love for Bush if it amounts to calling him one of the four great presidents is beyond weird. 

Adams was also the only candidate I noticed that rose his paddle to support "high stakes testing" to be connected to federal funding for schools. It would be hard to oppose high stakes testing for accountability for federal money delivered to school districts for an unabashed Bushie like Adams, since George W. Bush pioneered high stakes testing mandated by the federal government through its funding mechanism in the No Child Left Behind Act. But like every other candidate on the stage, Adams opposed Common Core.

Walter Zinn Wins the "Smart Smart Ass Award"

The lone Democrat not only corrected Sam Adcock on the Harry Truman/Teddy Roosevelt mixup; he also made several comments and gestures throughout the debate that showed a caustic sense of humor and an intellectual breadth beyond the capabilities of many on the stage. Probably not the best strategy to win in #MS01, but hey, he's speaking truth to power and making some of us in the audience feel like we're watching The Daily Show.

Zinn made clear that Common Core was a program adopted by the states, including the Republican leadership in the State of Mississippi.

And when Sam Adcock (a non-attorney businessman) asked rhetorically during his designated closing statements if we should send another lawyer to Congress, Zinn (one of many lawyers on stage ) upstaged Adcock by holding up his paddle in agreement and miming a tear falling from his eye. This left the audience in stitches but visibly frustrated Adcock, for whom the anti-lawyer line is usually his biggest hit.

Zinn made it clear in staking out several policy positions that he's no Blue Dog (Conservative) Democrat in the mold of Travis Childers. His favored presidents for a reconstructed Mount Rushmore included Barack Obama, something that drew cheers from a dozen or so African Americans in attendance.

Zinn's quick wit is a real asset for certain arenas, but he has a better chance of landing a spot on one of the cable networks as a political commentator than he does in winning the Special Election. Still, he may win a spot in the runoff if Democrats spread his name around so that he is identifiable on a non-partisan ballot.

What Each Candidate Lacks Based on Tonight's Performance (Unsolicited Free Advice)

Dr. Starner Jones: A calendar because he is running for Congress yet scheduled himself to work at the ER on one of the most important nights of the campaign.

Boyce Adams: A book about George W. Bush's administration and torture and the Iraq War, since he thinks officials from Obama's administration belong in prison.

Dr. Ed Holliday: A tooth-mobile like that dentist in Django Unchained drove so that people will take Holliday more seriously. Hey, it can't hurt.

Nancy Collins: Post-its to write down her thoughts to avoid more Rick Perry moments.

Sam Adcock: Wikiquotes to check who said something like "Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick." Or hell, he could have just gotten a high school education since we all learn about Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy in high school.

Quentin Whitwell: A treasure map back to Jackson.

Trent Kelly: Some speechwriting workshops because most of what he said seemed less structured than other candidates.

Mike Tagert: Less horse tranquilizers and Quaaludes, because the man needs to wake up.

Daniel Sparks: More horse tranquilizers and Quaaludes, because the man needs to settle down; I feel like a sinner in the hands of an angry God as he speaks like a passionate red-faced Baptist minister.

Henry Ross: A medical degree so that he can rock some cool Tea Party tropes like Starner Jones and Ed Holliday. ("Pull the plug on Obamacare," "I'm a doctor, not a politician," "Washington is sick, I'm the cure")

Chip Mills: Some flowers for his lovely wife who did a great job as a surrogate when he left early to go to speak to a fire department meeting in Marshall County. Also a calendar.

Walter Zinn: A phone to call MSNBC because he is more entertaining and smarter than most of the liberal commentators there.

Greg Pirkle: Some new ties because he wore white last time and purple this time. Is this guy a concert piano player or an aspiring candidate for one of the most conservative congressional districts in America?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The #MS01 Battlefield

For those not following the Special Congressional Election dynamics in play next month, my battlefield map of Mississippi's First District may seem confusing. But it's really not that complicated if you understand some key points of data (see spreadsheet below) within the framework of expected strategies of the candidates.

There are five key factors to watch in #MS01, and these are the factors (along with the data in the spreadsheet below) that informed my analysis when I created this map. Here are the five main strategic questions in what I consider descending order of importance:

(1) Who has money to play for the campaign jackpot of voters in the Desoto County media market?

(2) Who has home field advantage across multiple counties?

(3) Who has reliable turnout operations, especially establishment support, for what is expected to be a low turnout election?

(4) Who may benefit from the nascent power of Tea Party protest votes?

(5) Who may persuade African Americans and other Democratic base voters to cross over and vote for a Republican, particularly with a lack of party identification on the May 12th ballot?

These questions are the bullet points that I examine in detail below. If you don't care about my analysis, you can skip to the county-by-county raw data tabulated at the bottom and come to your own conclusions about whether my map will reflect the results on May 12th.

I. Desoto County Campaign Jackpot

Without a Desoto County candidate on the ballot, most of the thirteen candidates will be playing for the jackpot of voters in Desoto County, the only county with more than 100,000 residents in the First District.

Even candidates with no chance of winning elsewhere will be throwing tens of thousands of dollars into the media market of Desoto County in the coming weeks. These underdog candidates hope that buying air time in one county will translate into buying votes by the thousands in this sprawling juggernaut of disconnected communities.

Why would eight or nine candidates among this crowded field of thirteen be willing to throw away so much money? Principally they're buying airtime in Desoto County because so many candidates have lots of money to throw away in this election: at least ten candidates, several of them primarily self-funded, are already beyond or near the $100,000 mark for total campaign receipts.

And Desoto County is an attractive place to shop for voters if you are desperate to make it into the runoff. Desoto County is not aligned with anyone among the contenders in this race. Illustrative of this point, in 2014, the voters of Desoto County declared independence from the establishment GOP of Mississippi by voting more than 2 to 1 for Tea Party hell-raiser Chris McDaniel over infinity-term U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (see spreadsheet below).

An unholy amount of outside spending accounts for part of McDaniel's success, but there was and is also an uncorrupted quality about Desoto County that makes it the political equivalent of virgin soil for insurgent candidates. As Desoto County comprises many new, relatively wealthy communities sprawling out from the greater Memphis area, the voters of Desoto County are less likely to do what the Grand Poobahs among the lobbyists and politicians of faraway Jackson say they should do.

Desoto County does what it wants because of  its remote location from Mississippi's political center of gravity, its hoards of new and unconnected Mississippians, and its economic independence from the pork-barreled puppeteers of our state and federal government.

Unlike most areas in poverty-stricken Mississippi, Desoto Countians not only have a low unemployment rate (even if they sometimes travel to Memphis for higher pay), Desoto Countians also rely a lot less on federal or state money -- bad news for establishment politicians who use federal and state money to buy allegiance. But Desoto Countians are hard to buy; they do not have a major research university, a military base, or substantial dependence on other federally or state subsidized major industries like farming or federal contracting in relative proportion to their overall economy. That makes them unique compared to every other region of Mississippi. If anything, Desoto Countians care more about what Fedex or the Memphis City Council do than they care about what happens in Jackson or even Washington.

Because they are politically independent (though conservative-thinking) and there are more than 160,000 of them, Desoto Countians are the ripest and largest orchard of votes in the district. Don't be surprised if every candidate takes a tour to shake the trees there.

I fully expect Mike Tagert to have the most money to play in Desoto County, but based on Chris McDaniel's stunning upset over Senator Cochran there, any candidate who can present themselves as the electable yet anti-establishment alternative to Tagert will also do well. That's why I fully expect Quentin Whitwell and Boyce Adams to focus efforts here. Don't be surprised if Greg Pirkle makes his name famous (as opposed to his policy platform) as well. And Trent Kelly would be crazy not to capitalize on anti-establishment sentiment in Desoto County when Mike Tagert's campaign seems to be relying on some of the same establishment infrastructure as Thad Cochran.

II. Home Field Advantage in Multiple Counties: 

I've explored this point fully in the past, but it bears repeating. Tagert will win most of the Southern and Western Counties, while Kelly will win most of the Eastern Counties.

This comes down to Trent Kelly's home field advantages in multiple counties, namely the seven county district that includes those he represents as District Attorney, including: Alcorn, Itawamba, Lee, Monroe, Pontotoc, Prentiss, and Tishomingo. Based upon Chris McDaniel's impressive performance in Union and Tippah Counties and because those two counties border Kelly's district, I also think Kelly may win a decisive plurality in Tippah and Union counties.

Kelly may lose votes to favorite son or daughter candidates in Lee, Itawamba, and Tishomingo Counties, but this may only sting a bit, since he still may have a plurality that contributes enough votes for Kelly to make the runoff. Chip Mills, for instance, may win a weak plurality in Itawamba County, Daniel Sparks may win a weak plurality in Tishomingo County, and Nancy Collins and a few Tea Party challengers may dilute Kelly's expected plurality in Lee County. But the totality of losses will not likely thwart Kelly's march to the runoff absent perhaps some abysmal numbers in Lafayette and Desoto County for Kelly.

Another wrinkle for Kelly is Alcorn County; I think Kelly will probably win Alcorn, but right now his Democratic challenger in the District Attorney race in November, former Assistant District Attorney Arch Bullard, hails from Alcorn County. The previous DA that Kelly defeated, a three-decade incumbent Democrat John Young, also called Alcorn County his home base. As his opponents keep popping up there, that makes Alcorn County somewhat hostile territory for Kelly, but if Kelly spends some political capital in this prickly part of his backyard, he should still be able to win a plurality over Tagert there based on his home field advantage. But Tagert would be foolish to not exploit such a feud within Kelly's own district.

As a University of Mississippi School of Law alumnus (in contrast to Mike Tagert who is an alumnus of Mississippi State), I also expect Kelly to make a play in William Faulkner's postage stamp of native soil in Lafayette County. But Kelly is unlikely to win a plurality there, since so many other candidates may have a better claim to home field advantage, including attorneys Quentin Whitwell and Daniel Sparks. And if Oxford is as pro-establishment as I think it is, don't count out Mike Tagert; even someone with no connection to Lafayette County can win if the litmus test for establishment-oriented voters is based on electability.

Lafayette County and Desoto County are the biggest tossups in the First District right now. But for most of the Western area of the First District, where no one may claim home field advantage, expect Mike Tagert to win easily. He should also win most of the Southern area of the First District near his actual home base in Starkville (outside the First District), but I don't expect him to win in Lowndes County. Boyce Adams should win that one, although Sam Adcock may give Adams a run for his money based on Adcock taking credit for a number of economic development projects there.

The Western and Southern counties where Tagert should win pluralities also include areas with greater concentration of African American voters, which is a complex and controversial issue in post-2014 Mississippi politics. I'll discuss this issue and what it means for African American Democratic candidate Walter Zinn in Part V below.

In creating the battlefield map, I also gave some credence to the conventional wisdom that even "message candidates" will do well in their home counties. For instance, Tea Party firebrand Henry Ross may win in his home county, Webster, which is the second-smallest county in the district and also one of eight Tea Party-friendly counties where Chris McDaniel beat Senator Thad Cochran in the 2014 runoff for U.S. Senate. In any event, I do not expect Tea Party voters to fall in love with Tagert. If candidates like Ross don't win here, expect more electable candidates like Kelly to pick up some extra votes.

III. Turnout Turnout Turnout:

Mike Tagert raised substantially more money than any of his opponents so far in #MS01, and any question of his ability to turn out voters in the First District may be answered based upon his past election to his present office representing the same voters as #MS01 across the Northern District of Mississippi as their Transportation Commissioner.

That said, Trent Kelly will be working overtime with a staff that is based in Tupelo and made up of an alliance between his District Attorney campaign operation (which controversially includes some of his paid office staff) and some remnants of the late Congressman Alan Nunnelee's campaign operation, including a former top aid and campaign manager to Nunnelee.

The only other candidate likely to have any natural advantages in terms of turnout may be Walter Zinn who benefits from the bloc-voting tendency of African Americans in heavily Democratic precincts. But turning out these voters is not a sure thing for Zinn for reasons described in Part V below.

IV. Tea Party's Sound and Fury Signifying Something: 

The 2014 data in the table at the bottom of this post shows that even a longterm U.S. Senator is vulnerable to anti-establishment sentiment or Tea Party anger. Rural and suburban voters alike seemed amenable to McDaniel's anti-establishment message in the U.S. Senate Republican primary runoff in 2014.

In 2014, less than a year ago, McDaniel defeated Cochran in eight of the twenty-two First District counties: Desoto, Itawamba, Tate, Tishomingo, Tippah, Marshall, Webster, and Benton County.

With many in its leadership discredited or rendered powerless, some people believe the Tea Party is dead in Mississippi. No major Tea Party figure who stood tall against the establishment in the 2014 U.S. Senate primary emerged as a 2015 candidate for major statewide office.

An even more dismal vital sign for the Tea Party, their cadre of leaders in our state legislature is dwindling in numbers, while those true to the faith such as State Senators Melanie Sojourner, Michael Watson, and their leader Chris McDaniel are still facing serious pushback from establishment leadership to any legislative policy initiatives they propose.

But whether the Tea Party movement is effectively dead in this state for the purposes of a Special Election this year depends on a number of factors beyond fielding candidates for state election or passing their pet legislation.

For instance, there's the issue of whether a candidate soliciting anti-establishment Tea Party votes can win without outside money. We know that the Tea Party protest vote may be a force to be reckoned with when backed up by an unholy amount of outside spending as in the 2014 GOP Primary between U.S. Senator Thad Cochran and State Senator Chris McDaniel. But what about when the candidates have to raise their own money? As far as I know, no major outside groups are spending money yet in the #MS01, which is due in part to the accelerated campaign schedule.

Without significant outside money, an anti-establishment candidate must run advertisements in their own name. Last year, Chris McDaniel had the advantage of Club for Growth and other outside groups and their SuperPACs running negative ads in Desoto County and other major media markets. Club for Growth helped poison the well for Senator Cochran in these media markets while not necessarily making McDaniel seem to be such a depraved negative campaigner.

So the absence of outside spending in #MS01 poses a question: Will anyone be able or willing to spend a lot of money on negative advertisements stoking the Tea Party fire against Mike Tagert when the candidate or campaign spending money on those advertisements must be directly connected to that kind of mudslinging?

The second challenge for any #MS01 candidate seeking to carry the anti-establishment banner this time is the saturation of the market with "message candidates" running explicitly as Tea Party candidates. These candidates are relatively well-funded, including Starner Jones, Ed Holliday, and Henry Ross. All three are right at or beyond six-figure receipts, according to campaign finance reports. While those candidates do not have even a remote chance at making it to the runoff, their presence on the ballot even as message candidates makes it tougher for Boyce Adams, Trent Kelly, or Quentin Whitwell to run as the "anti-establishment candidate" against Mike Tagert.

Despite these challenges, the data from 2014 in the McDaniel/Cochran primary runoff makes running against the establishment very attractive. And in this particular campaign, the Barbour-backed candidate and frontrunner Mike Tagert represents the establishment that certain voters seem to be tired of, particularly in Desoto County. The advantages of the anti-establishment strategy should especially pay dividends for the candidate that competes against Tagert in the runoff.

V. African American Crossover:

In addition to the role of the Tea Party, the role of African American voters and their possible crossover votes looms large over next month's Special Election in the First District.

Will African Americans vote in large numbers on May 12th in #MS01? If so, will they vote for a Democrat? Or, in the absence of party identification on the Special Election ballot, are they more likely under these unique circumstances to cross over and vote for other candidates who campaign aggressively in majority African American precincts? Will candidates follow the Thad Cochran playbook? If so, will they be successful in painting their rivals as extremists who show contempt for the first African American President and who promise to balance the budget on the backs of the poor?

Whether Democratic voters cross over in this election will all depend on how hard Democrats work to turn out votes for their own candidate. If Democrats are able to turn out their own base for their own candidate, then that candidate has a good shot at making it into the runoff, but African American support will be crucial in that effort. The data illustrates this point.

In analyzing the table at the end of this post, the 2014 general election contest between African American Democrat Ron Dickey and the late Republican incumbent Alan Nunnelee may be helpful in understanding the possible African American Democratic turnout for another African American Democratic candidate in #MS01: Walter Howard Zinn Jr.

In 2014, Congressional Candidate Ron Dickey garnered a majority of votes in just one of the twenty-two districts against the late Congressman Alan Nunnelee. He won Clay County by 47 votes. As Clay County is the only county in the First District with a majority of its residents identified as African American, Dickey's better performance in Clay County is not surprising.

Other counties in the First District tend to vote Democratic in most elections, including some counties with high but not majority African American populations like Marshall County. Dickey's performance disappointed in these other counties in part because he lost the support of the Democratic Party and many voters when he lied about his military service record.

Such wrinkles complicate using 2014 as a model for this election. But we should add as a mitigating factor to Dickey's loss of establishment Democratic support the fact that a low-information voter could still support Dickey on a party-line vote without knowing anything about him, since the 2014 ballot identified his party.

So the question is: what sort of headwinds does Walter Zinn face in making the cut for the runoff on May 12th? It is clear that, unlike Ron Dickey, Zinn will enjoy strong establishment support from the Democratic Party. On the other hand, without party identification on the ballot, Zinn is likely to face another kind of hurdle in terms of voter education.

In my map, I allocated victories or likely pluralities to Zinn in the African American majority county of Clay County based upon Ron Dickey's victory there; however, I also think Zinn has a good shot at a plurality in Marshall, Winston, Benton, Monroe, Lowndes, and Chickasaw Counties with some chance of also winning pluralities in Calhoun, Choctaw, Tate, and even Lee Counties. This will all depend on the extent to which Zinn can mobilize support on and before May 12th. Dickey's disappointing effort in 2014 as an African American Democrat in the First District represents a floor, not a ceiling, for the kind of support I envision Zinn receiving.

That said, Zinn has his work cut out for him in attempting to make the runoff. After the 2014 #MSSEN race, Republicans have discovered that African American voters are amenable to crossing over and voting for less extreme GOP candidates under the right circumstances (e.g., where the alternative is someone like Chris McDaniel race-baiting and promising to block or defund programs that many poor voters depend upon).

The most likely candidate to exploit the possibility of persuading African American voters to cross over is Mike Tagert who seems to have the backing of the Barbour machine that helped Cochran court African Americans in 2014. 

This could backfire for Tagert, however. If he moves to the left in Democratic counties to court African Americans, I think that will provoke Chris McDaniel or others on the right to become involved in this race. Additionally, Tagert would probably rather face Walter Zinn instead of Trent Kelly in the runoff, so he has little incentive to court African Americans before the runoff and deprive Zinn of his chances, unless he fears that both Trent Kelly and Walter Zinn will otherwise outperform him in the May 12th election.

When I first considered the possibility of any of the candidates pursuing African American crossover votes, I immediately thought of Tagert because of the Barbour machine's reliance of Democratic crossover in 2014. But the more I think about this possibility, the more I think the candidate with a choice to make is Trent Kelly. Should he pursue Tea Party voters disaffected with the Barbour Machine? Or should he imitate the Barbour machine by pursuing African American crossover votes?

While Kelly is presumed to be the more conservative candidate between he and Tagert, one anecdote shows that he may have some credibility with Democratic crossover voters in African American communities. In 2007, Kelly made news by speaking to a NAACP rally and criticizing Democratic incumbent John Young in the District Attorney race for not hiring any African American assistants in thirty-plus years. Kelly lost the 2007 election, but when he came back to beat Young in a 2011 rematch, he made good on his promise by hiring more than one African American assistant district attorney.

Still, practically speaking, Tagert seems to be the only candidate with the resources to get out the vote across the entire district. Kelly is more likely to stay in his neck of the woods and to double down in the East in addition to investing resources in vote-rich Desoto County. If Kelly or Tagert pursues African American crossover, they risk inflaming the Tea Party. So Zinn is a better bet in these communities, at least before the runoff makes things really interesting in June.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

DA Trent Kelly Uses Prosecutorial Personnel for Congressional Campaign in #MS01

Is this OK? District Attorney Trent Kelly is boasting about "volunteers" helping him campaign this weekend. The only problem is some of them are not really volunteers. They're government employees employed by Trent Kelly.

Does using several of his assistant district attorneys for one day of canvassing blur the line between Kelly's federal campaign and Kelly's current state taxpayer-funded office? Is this an abuse of his office?

Here is a Tweet from Trent Kelly's campaign account in which he refers to at least three District Attorney employees as "volunteers."

Three of those pictured in the Tweet embedded above are listed here as Assistant District Attorneys on Trent Kelly's government website.
(Some family members of the ADAs are also pictured but have not been identified by DHM for obvious reasons.)

Of course the employees are not at fault, since it must be good for one's career to help a boss seek higher office. (In fact, of the three ADAs pictured above, John Weddle is a friendly challenger on the ballot seeking to replace his boss as District Attorney in November if Trent Kelly wins the Special Election for the First Congressional District.)

But should District Attorney Trent Kelly be encouraging personnel from his taxpayer funded non-partisan prosecutorial office to run his congressional campaign? His campaign's Tweet, embedded above, suggests that, rather than this being independent spontaneous campaign activity by loyal supporters, Kelly is at least present and presumably organizing some of the canvassing activities in which his employees participated this weekend.

If I were a district attorney attempting to tie together many individuals accused of a single crime, a picture of the suspects together is worth a thousand words to show evidence of a conspiracy. While using state government employees for his federal campaign may not be a crime, it is evidence of potential abuse of office. But who knows? This is something I am guessing Kelly's main opponent, Mike Tagert, may also be doing. As Transportation Commissioner of the Northern District of Mississippi, I would be shocked if Tagert's employees were not doing the same.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Who is going to win on May 12th in #MS01?

With less than a month to go until the May 12th Special Congressional Election in the First District of Mississippi, below are my predictions followed by my analysis as a close observer of the various candidates.

Keep in mind the situation is fluid, but based on this being a no-drama fast-pace race so far, I don't expect too much to change. I think these percentages will change, but the tiers are unlikely to shift too much.

I. First Tier Candidates (Expect at least 10 - 20% of the vote on May 12th):

Trent Kelly

Mike Tagert

II. Second Tier Candidates (Expect 5 - 10% of the vote on May 12th):

Boyce Adams

Nancy Collins

Chip Mills

Daniel Sparks

Quentin Whitwell

Walter Howard Zinn Jr.

III. Third Tier Candidates (Expect less than 5% of the vote on May 12th):

Sam Adcock

Ed Holliday

Starner Jones

Greg Pirkle

Henry Ross

A Point about those three tiers:

Those in the red tier may move up one to the yellow tier but are unlikely to get into the green tier. Those in the yellow tier may move up or down one; and those in the green tier may shift down to yellow as the race develops.

What this means, in my judgment, is that only 8 candidates have a chance of making it into the runoff.

I don't have access to polling data or the cross tabs for various internal polls that are bouncing around, but I do have some good justifications for the tiers set out above.

More on the Red Tier (3rd Tier): 

First, three of those in the red tier are Tea Party firebrands. Holliday, Jones, and Ross are splitting the Tea Party outsider vote and will reduce one another's chances of making it into even the 5-10% share of the electorate on May 12th. 

Second, while Greg Pirkle seems to be a nice guy (probably the nicest guy in the bunch), I do not see him distinguishing himself in any way from the others. His television advertisement that played on his name (Pick Pirkle?) was funny, but I do not think that gives him a platform, a campaign infrastructure, or a compelling narrative to challenge those in the yellow and green tiers.

Third, Adcock is phoning it in. He did not even show up to the first debate in Pontotoc. Why take his campaign seriously if he doesn't? But like Pirkle, he put out a great ad with "The Interview." That gives him a shot at moving up one to the second tier, but with the accelerated campaign in a special election, I doubt he gets anywhere near the green tier. Also, he'll be splitting his home vote in Columbus with Boyce Adams who has been far more aggressive in his campaigning.

More on the Yellow Tier (2nd Tier): 

Boyce Adams is spending enough money to place himself squarely in the second tier, at the least. If it weren't for Tagert and Kelly, he would be in the top tier of candidates based upon the fact that he is running a professional campaign with lots of resources and some potential help from people in high places like Governor Bryant or The Weekly Standard (In the latter, his fraternity brother wrote a piece puffing up his campaign). He's not in the top tier because Tagert and Kelly will be more attractive to First District voters based on these two candidates' maturity, qualifications, and Southern gentleman mien (three factors collectively amounting to Mississippi Congressional gravitas). In the final analysis, it seems Adams will be lucky to even win his native Lowndes County with Sam Adcock competing for favorite son votes as a fellow Columbus candidate and Mike Tagert claiming votes as a favorite neighbor from nearby Starkville. 

Nancy Collins may surprise us with a finish at the top end of the yellow tier threshold of 5 to 10% of the vote. Her unique experience as a legislator makes her more qualified in a categorical way than any of the other candidates. And of course those looking for a fresh perspective may want to send Mississippi's first woman to Congress. On the other hand, her legislative experience gives her a record for others to criticize. She is also hailing from Tupelo, which means she must battle against multiple candidates from the Lee County area of the First District, especially fellow Lee Countian Trent Kelly. 

Chip Mills does not expect to win this race, at least that's what I think. He seems to be more interested in making friends and alliances as he builds a name for himself. But based on his showing at public events so far, I think he is a natural politician and will have a bright future in his party. He is young and eloquent, and this is his chance to cut his teeth in politics with a big bite of the electoral apple by appealing to tens of thousands of voters from all different walks of life -- people in the North Mississippi area that will likely hear his name again for judge, District Attorney, state legislator, or something more ambitious. Like Democrat Walter Zinn, Mills' charisma is a real force, but I do not think he breaks into the top tier for the same reasons that Boyce Adams will not break into the top tier: namely Tagert and Kelly are sucking all of the electoral oxygen out of the room with their aforementioned gravitas made up of nebulous features like maturity, qualifications, and southern gentlemanliness. Mills may pick up some votes in Oxford thanks to a famous father and the West side thanks to a dearth of West side candidates in addition to carrying his home county of Itawamba County, but as a younger provincial candidate, I do not see him winning over voters in the Lee and Desoto County media markets that would help to make him a top tier candidate.

Daniel Sparks seems to be banking on campaigning as an insurgent political outsider, and unlike Greg Pirkle, his personality fits that campaign style. He seems comfortable in his own skin as an unpolished candidate with the right sort of rough-hewn political acumen for a rural district. He appeals to average rural county voters in discussing his own narrative as the son of a minister and an elementary teacher, although the truth is that he is not one of them strictly speaking. He is an Oxford lawyer with additional education as a tax professional. His roots in the district extend between Oxford (his adopted town) in Lafayette County and Belmont (his hometown) in Tishomingo County. That makes Sparks one of the few candidates with some association with both the Eastern and Western portions of the First District. I think Sparks will finish closer to 5% than 10% on May 12th, but his broader geographic and demographic appeal still makes him a yellow tier candidate with a slim chance at the runoff as opposed to a red tier candidate with virtually no chance. This guy is my wildcard. No one else gives him a chance to even get to this second tier, but I am betting he just might get 5 or 6% of the vote -- enough to spoils things for someone else.

Quentin Whitwell may finish in the top three in Lafayette County, but I do not think he will finish anywhere near the top three vote-getters across the First District. Even though Whitwell claims Oxford as his home as of last year, voters in the First District will be suspicious of anyone who was on the Jackson City Council (several hours away from us) just a short time ago. Whitwell may impress more urban and suburban voters in the Jackson area, but his mien is all wrong in the First District. This is the district that elected Travis Childers and Alan Nunnelee. In his speeches thus far, he is overcompensating for his Jackson carpetbaggery by veering hard right on the issues. Few will be fooled by Whitwell, except a handful of disconnected burbs in Desoto County. I do not even think Whitwell will carry Lafayette County with candidates like Trent Kelly playing up Ole Miss connections and Daniel Sparks competing for Lafayette County votes. Additionally, Oxford is a pro-establishment town if there ever was one in the First District. The voters in Whitwell's hometown will prefer a winning horse to a local horse, so I expect Lafayette County's most prevalent Spring flora to be yard signs with the names Tagert and Kelly. Depending on how much money Whitwell sinks into the race, he'll likely finish in the 5-10% range of the yellow tier. 

Walter Howard Zinn Jr. will win as many majority-African American precincts as he has cash and time to spend there, but it is not likely to be enough. Like Chip Mills, he represents the future of his party. Both are talented public speakers, seem to be relatable human beings, and come off as more intelligent than their political forebears. Technically, if Zinn were to win all of the African American votes in the First District, he'd finish with about a quarter of the electorate, a finish that would propel him into the runoff and may warrant a serious look from white voters who are upset with the status quo of the Republican-caused gridlock in Washington. But what Zinn must watch out for in terms of even getting out the vote for himself among his base are candidates like Mike Tagert. Tagert seems to have the Barbour machine behind him, which is a political machine that managed to mobilize African American voters to vote for a Republican last year in Thad Cochran. 

I know this sounds crazy. Why would African American Democrats vote for a white Republican when there is an African American Democrat in the race? Well, most African American Democratic voters wouldn't cross over in an ordinary election. But as a special election in which turnout is low and all voters are at an information disadvantage (in that this is a non-partisan, one-ballot, fast-paced campaign), it seems to be obvious that the candidate with the most get out the vote resources (i.e., the most walking and talking money) wins in any district that lacks a candidate with home-field advantage. That means all majority-black precincts may be up for grabs in #MS01, since Zinn hails not from Holly Springs or other African American Democratic strongholds but rather from Pontotoc. So with the Barbour machine blowing at his sails, it seems Mike Tagert is the main competitor for Zinn, since he may enjoy the Barbour machine's experience and proven track record at targeting African American voters for crossover. 

More on the Green Tier (1st Tier): 

Trent Kelly will probably win most of the Eastern Counties of the First District, including almost all of the counties that he currently represents as District Attorney (except two smaller counties with favorite son candidates: Itawamba County where Chip Mills may win and Tishomingo County where Daniel Sparks may win). Kelly will not win in Lowndes County, since Boyce Adams and Sam Adcock are likely to win that one with a slim chance that Tagert in neighboring Starkville pulls an upset. Kelly may not win a  clear majority of even his home county with fellow Lee Countian Nancy Collins and some neighboring Tea Partiers siphoning off votes, but he is likely to win a large plurality in the vote-rich greater Tupelo-area. The geographical benefits of his current political office are not the only advantages Kelly enjoys. There is also his reputation for rural voters when he bills himself as a war veteran who fights from the battle field to the court room; he used this to defeat a thirty-plus year incumbent Democrat in 2011 to become a relatively popular District Attorney.  Then there is Kelly's speaking style and his willingness to invoke God in every other sentence of his stump speech to win over voters throughout the First District, especially evangelicals in Tupelo and Desoto County.

I think 10% to 20% is a conservative estimate in the May 12th election in terms of Kelly's vote share. Kelly's fundraising is likely to disappoint in the first filings, but I'm thinking his contributions will likely see a spike when he makes it to the runoff (assuming he does). Besides, if money bought this election, one of the zany Tea Party doctors (Jones or Holliday) who are self-funding their campaigns would make the runoff. And for that matter, the business boys of Columbus, Boyce Adams or Sam Adcock, would then beat the winner of the zany self-funded Tea Party doctors in the runoff.

Mike Tagert will probably win most of the counties furthest to the South in the First District as well as most of the Western Counties. The Southern-most counties are closer to Tagert's native Starkville, while the Western counties are basically up for grabs (with no one from Desoto County in particular). Tagert's most important ally is a placeholder candidate from Desoto County. If Kelly vacates the office of Transportation Commissioner should he win this seat in Congress, Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson of Desoto County will likely inherit Tagert's current office since he placed himself on the ballot as a friendly challenger to Tagert when Tagert telegraphed his intentions to run for Congress. This deal was a power play by both men to (i) keep Johnson out of this Congressional race, (ii) give Johnson a sweetheart political deal in letting him basically inherit a major political office for a four-year term, and (iii) give Tagert exclusive access to Johnson's political infrastructure and influence over Desoto County votes. Tagert's plot to buy a chunk of Desoto County with his political office will probably work, since this is likely to be a low turnout election otherwise in Desoto County with no Native Desoto Countian candidate on the ballot. 

Tagert also has obvious geographical advantages in that he represents the entire First District as Northern District Mississippi Transportation Commissioner, but of course Tagert himself is not a resident of the First District. He is a resident of Starkville, the strange donut hole of the First District. The Starkville area is not part of the First District, which is the one thing (if there is just one thing) that keeps Tagert from running away with this special election, as his high name-recognition, political infrastructure, and establishment backing are hard to beat.

In a quirk of culture, Tagert also benefits from the fact that the Ole Miss/Mississippi State feud is at an ebb outside the normal election cycle that includes August to November tailgating during football season. Tagert's alma mater for post-graduate work is Mississippi State (also outside the First District or in its donut hole), while Trent Kelly went to the University of Mississippi School of Law (firmly affixed to the First District donut). I know the university feud angle sounds petty, but who do you think would pick up more First District votes if these candidates were campaigning in the Grove during the August to November normal election season? The guy who went to Ole Miss? Or the guy who went to Millsaps and then State?

Finally, another interesting question is whether Tagert has a chance of stealing some African American Democratic crossover votes from African American Democratic candidate Zinn (See analysis of Zinn's candidacy, above, for more on this possibility).

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

#MS01 Pontotoc Town Hall "Debate"

Here is the video from last night's debate. I was impressed with several of the candidates. Some are clearly comic relief, and some are there to influence the issues. Others are real contenders. I think at least five or six fit into the latter category.

I will follow up with some detailed commentary at a later time. For now, I thought it would be of service to voters and media in the First District of Mississippi to watch last night's debate mostly unfiltered. I had to edit some, and I did not capture each speech in its entirety due to my camera's memory restrictions. But there's a little bit of everybody in this 45 minutes of footage.