In Mississippi, one of three states to hold statewide elections later this year, a number of candidates for governor and lieutenant governor have launched their campaigns, though the races haven’t begun to grab the public’s attention.
 
The state’s current Republican governor, Haley Barbour, is term limited, leaving the field open for the top job. Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant, who has declared his candidacy to succeed Barbour, has more than $2 million in his campaign war chest, giving him a significant fund-raising edge over his rivals. Another Republican, Gulfport businessman and construction firm CEO Dave Dennis, kicked off his campaign for governor this week with a statewide campaign tour. Dennis has raised more than $800,000 in the last two years and reports having more than $500,000 in cash on hand.
 
Two other Republican gubernatorial aspirants have announced their candidacies, Pearl River County District Supervisor Hudson Holliday and James Broadwater, an employee of the Mississippi Department of Revenue and former candidate for Congress. Former Lieutenant Governor Amy Tuck and current Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann are both reportedly considering running as well.
 
On the Democratic side, Delta lawyer Bill Luckett and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree have both announced their candidacies. Luckett appears to be the frontrunner in the August 2 primary, with more than $350,000 cash on hand at the end of 2010. DuPree closed the year with just under $66,000 cash on hand; however, his disclosure form was ruled incomplete by the January 31 filing deadline.
 
In the Republican primary race for lieutenant governor, which is elected on its own column in Mississippi, State Treasurer Tate Reeves faces state Sen. Billy Hewes. Hewes recently picked up the endorsement of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Reeves has recent tradition on his side, as the three previous Mississippi state treasurers have each gone on to become lieutenant governor. However, every Mississippi lieutenant governor since 1968 has had prior legislative experience, which Reeves lacks.
 
Both Reeves and Hewes are well established in Mississippi politics, and some are eyeing this race as more competitive and interesting than the Republican primary for governor. Reeves boasts $1.2 million in campaign cash, while Hewes has more than $670,000.
 
The Biloxi Sun Herald reported in late January that a poll showed that Reeves had a 20-point edge in name recognition among Republican primary voters over Hewes. However, “if voters had to choose today” between the two, Reeves held a slim 16 to 10 percent edge. 
 
Dr. K.C. Morrison, a professor of American politics at Mississippi State University, says that it is too early to say definitively where these races are headed, but the frontrunners in the GOP primaries for lieutenant governor and governor have emerged. “The expectation is that, as a product of [Bryant’s] visibility as lieutenant governor, it is widely assumed that he will be ahead in the early part of the game,” he says. “As for Tate Reeves, everybody marvels at the campaign money chest that he has amassed and expects that that will be an advantage for him.”
 
Dr. David Breaux, associate dean of the political science department at Mississippi State University and an expert in state politics, believes that Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves are the heirs apparent in both races and that the state’s top two offices are theirs to lose. “I don’t know if the Democrats can mount a successful campaign and create the kind of biracial coalition they will need,” says Breaux. “That has been the key for them in the past. I don’t see that kind of energy this time around.”
 
Breaux has been surprised at the lack of interest the 2011 elections have generated at this point in the campaign. “I would be surprised if you went down to the Piggly Wiggly in small-town Mississippi and asked people about these races, that even the name identification would be difficult for most folks,” says Breaux. 
 
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at nrothman@campaignsandelections.com