Charlie Ross ran a good campaign. But from the very day he announced, he had a steep uphill fight. He received a little over 43% of the vote in a hard-hitting contest. After reading all the newspaper articles and blogs on the race, here are the reasons as to why he lost:
1. Phil Bryant was running for the Lt. Governor's post from the day he was reelected as State Auditor in 2003. He had contacts in all eighty-two counties and it paid off. He was able to get commitments of support early in the race. When he announced his candidacy, his machine was ready to roll. Charlie Ross did not have that early start.
2. Bryant is a smooth and polished stump speaker. As much as I despise Bryant, he is a very good stump speaker. He may have nothing to say, but he says it with force. This is in sharp contrast to Charlie Ross' professorial speeches. Ross was very intelligent and made some very good speeches with good substance. But listening to Charlie Ross was like listening to a seminar on the Alternative Minimum Tax at the Mississippi Tax Institute.
3. Bryant is a charmer. Let's face it: Bryant has a dynamic personality. He can charm birds out of the trees (like Bill Clinton). Ross is not a charmer but he is a very sincere and honorable person. Unless you knew him, he would come off as shy and retiring.
4. Billy Mounger's TV ad endorsing Bryant was a big help. Mounger is a big name in conservative and GOP circles. His endorsement blunted Ross' charge that Bryant was not conservative enough for GOPers.
5. The TV ad on Bryant's support for the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi was meant to show what a liberal Bryant was (and in my opinion, still is). Unfortunately, it backfired among Republican suburban women, who were bitterly against "Big Tobacco" and thought the PHM was a great idea. Bryant had very strong support among the Republican "Soccer Moms." Ross did better among men than women.
6. Ross never ripped Bryant on his abysmal record as State Auditor. I heard rumors Ross was going to use the findings of the PEER report to rip Bryant. Believe me, he even could have tied Bryant to the failed (moooo) beef plant. But nothing ever came out of it.
7. Before he ran for Lt. Governor, Ross had very little name recognition. Unless you were a Rankin County resident or a political junkie, chances are you never hear of Ross. It is tough to win a campaign when you have little name recognition.
8. Ross was way behind as early as April. www.cottonmouthblog.blogspot had an MAE poll showing Ross way behind in April. If you allocate the undecideds, Bryant was leading by more than a 2-1 margin. It is very difficult to make up such a deficit in just four months.
9. The GOP believes in rewarding one of their own for winning the big offices. Bryant was the only GOPer to win a statewide office in 1999 (Although I believe Rod Nixon could have defeated him if Nixon had started campaigning right after Bryant became State Auditor in late 1996.). A lot of GOP activists believe Bryant has "paid his dues" and it was time for the GOP to pay him back. (Look, the GOP nominated Dr. Moo for MDAC Commissioner. Many GOPers felt he was courageous for switching parties after the beef plant scandal and thus renominated him.)
Many people feel Ross' negative ads hurt him. I very strongly disagree. Indeed, I think the ads immensely helped him. When you are the underdog and your opponent has few visible negatives, you have no choice to go negative. The only way you are going to defeat the favorite is by showing the glaring negatives of that candidate. Ross did have some positive ads, but that was not going to get him elected. He had to go for the jugular. What did he have to lose? I thought Ross wasn't negative enough. I would have gone mau-mau against Bryant. Yeah, it would have turned some people off. But it would have made the favorite look like Satan. I've seen candidates go mau-mau and the underdog gets the tar beaten out of him. On the other hand, I have seen some very shocking upsets. The object is to win, not hold hands with your opponent and sing "Kuumbaya."
Ross was an excellent candidate and would have made one of the best Lt. Governors the state has had in a long time. He knew the workings of the State Senate much better than his opponent and accomplished much in his eight years as State Senator. Hopefully, he will seek office again. We need his caliber in government.