- Associated Press - Saturday, August 1, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appears confident of winning his party’s nomination for re-election Tuesday.

The Republican is already talking about pushing for tax cuts during a second term, and he’s paying little attention to anyone else running for governor. While opponents say Bryant has failed to pull Mississippi out of persistent poverty, he points to the state’s decreasing unemployment rate as proof of success.

“In my State of the State address, I said my first job is to make sure that every Mississippian who wants a job, has one,” Bryant said Thursday at the Neshoba County Fair, one of the state’s largest political gatherings. “I’ve amended that. I want ‘em to have a job, even if they don’t want one.”

His only primary challenger is Mitch Young of Sumrall, a Navy veteran who reports spending less than $1,000 in his first run for office.

Democrats choose among three first-time candidates in their primary Tuesday.

Vicki Slater, an attorney from Madison, leads in fundraising among the three Democrats, and can draw on connections as a former leader of a state trial lawyers’ association. Still, the latest finance reports show Slater had about $36,000 cash on hand - only a fraction of Bryant’s $2.8 million campaign fund.

Dr. Valerie Adream Smartt Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Ridgeland, reported about $7,000 in her fund.

The other Democrat, Robert Gray, is a long-haul truck driver from Jackson who reports spending no money on his campaign.

All three Democrats say they want to expand Medicaid and put more money into public schools.

Bryant has said he doesn’t trust the federal government to fulfill its promise to pay most of the tab for adding hundreds of thousands of low-income working people to the Medicaid rolls. Speaking Thursday in Neshoba County, Slater said people don’t need to like President Barack Obama to know that Mississippi could receive billions of federal dollars by expanding Medicaid, and that money would help the state’s health care providers.

“It makes no sense to say, ‘New York City, y’all have that $4 billion, and y’all have good health care, and y’all keep y’all’s hospitals open,’ and just let Mississippi and Mississippians go without,” Slater said at the fair. “‘Cause it’s our tax dollars, too, people.”

Short, an Air Force veteran, spoke in bursts of short phrases while she was onstage at the fair - an approach that sounded like open-verse poetry than a traditional political speech. She said Mississippi offers to little opportunity to high school and college graduates.

“Brain drain. Mass exodus of our kids,” Short said. “No economic opportunities. Options. Jobs. Careers. Stagnating, regressing. Are we becoming an invisible economy in Mississippi?”

Gray, who regularly drives freight across the country, acknowledges that winning the governorship is a longshot, but said he’d park his rig and devote full time to leading the state if he’s elected.

“Funding education is good for business, good for the state of Mississippi,” Gray told The Associated Press in an interview. “That’s an easy way to get money circulating around the state.”

Young, the Republican challenger, said during a speech at the fair that Bryant has failed to fully fund education or to improve the economy.

“His leadership has failed Mississippi, and Mississippi is foundering,” Young said.


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

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