Truck driver wins Dem nomination for Mississippi governor

AP News
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Posted: Aug 05, 2015 5:33 AM
Truck driver wins Dem nomination for Mississippi governor

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has $2.8 million in his campaign fund, and his Democratic challenger in the November election is a truck driver who reported spending no money so far and who said he didn't even vote in Tuesday's primary.

Robert Gray won the Democratic primary for governor over two candidates — Vicki Slater, a trial lawyer backed by much of the Democratic establishment; and Dr. Valerie Adream Smartt Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist.

Gov. Bryant easily defeated his only GOP primary opponent, Mitch Young of Sumrall, a Navy veteran who spent little.

"This is just halftime," Bryant said Tuesday night from the state Republican headquarters in Jackson. "We've got until November to make sure a lot us get re-elected and hold the (state) House and hold the Senate."

Gray told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he was busy Tuesday and did not vote.

"I was in Jackson and had to do a lot of stuff and just lost track of time, to tell you the truth," said Gray, who was in south Mississippi by election night.

Gray said he made only a few campaign appearances and was at a loss to explain his strong showing. He said some might have voted for him because he has a common name.

"They didn't know me from anybody else," Gray said of Democratic primary voters.

He said his campaign was not backed by any big-name politician or group.

Slater said from her home late Tuesday that Gray was "sort of a mystery guy" who showed up at very few campaign events.

"I did everything I could to win this," Slater told AP.

Slater campaigned on expanding Medicaid and fully funding an education budget formula that has been largely ignored since it was put into law in 1997.

The Nov. 3 ballot for governor will also include the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara, who has run unsuccessfully for more than a dozen state and local races since the early 1990s.

Four other statewide Republican incumbents defeated challengers Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves pushed aside one candidate who had spent little money, while Treasurer Lynn Fitch, Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney defeated challengers who criticized their performance in office.

Reeves defeated Alisha Nelson McElhenney, a teacher from Moss Point.

Former state Sen. Tim Johnson won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Johnson, who switched from Republican to Democrat as he entered the race earlier this year, defeated Jelani Barr, a bookkeeper from Greenwood. Libertarian Ron Williams and the Reform Party's Rosa B. Williams will also be on the general election ballot for lieutenant governor.

"Tonight's results show Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly pleased with the direction we are leading the state," Reeves said from a Jackson restaurant.

Johnson said he will continue to campaign on fully funding schools, improving roads and bridges and expanding Medicaid. He said Republicans have cost the state billions of federal dollars by refusing to add more people to Medicaid, a government health insurance program for the needy.

"For them to turn their backs on those dollars just doesn't make sense to me," Johnson said Tuesday.

Fitch defeated David McRae, an attorney who said she had sloppily managed a state-sponsored college savings plan. Fitch said she has been a good steward of public finances.

"It's been very challenging, but what was important was to focus on the positives," Fitch said from a victory party at the state GOP headquarters.

Pickering defeated Mary Hawkins Butler, a longtime Madison mayor, who said Pickering was wrong to use campaign money to pay for personal expenses such as vehicles, travel and a garage door. Pickering said his spending was aboveboard.

"I think the voters of Mississippi gave a resounding referendum that they like the results that they received out of our office, and they obviously want us to continue building upon our successes of the last eight years," Pickering said in a telephone interview from his home in Laurel after the results were in.

Chaney defeated one challenger, body shop owner John Mosley. No Democrat is running for insurance commissioner, but a Reform Party candidate, Johnny McLeod, will be on the ballot in November.

"We ran on what we've done the past eight years and stayed positive, so I am happy about that," Chaney said from his party at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. "We've still got miles to go to address (insurance) rates and flooding insurance along the Gulf Coast and access to health insurance in the state."

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Associated Press writer Jack Elliott Jr. contributed to this report.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .