- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A political consultant who has worked for Democrats in the Deep South says he’s trying to generate support for Robert Gray, the truck driver who did not spend a dime and won the party’s nomination for Mississippi governor.

The Washington-based consultant, Dane Strother, set up a website aimed at raising money to defeat first-term Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

“The Democratic Party has just been beaten to a pulp in the South, and at some point somebody has got to do something,” said Strother, who was raised in Louisiana.

Strother told The Associated Press his effort is not connected to the Mississippi Democratic Party. He said he hasn’t met Gray but likes what he has read about the unlikely nominee, who has no political experience and said he didn’t even vote in the primary because he was busy running errands.

“He’s a real guy,” Strother said Monday.

Gray said Tuesday that he’s working to set up a campaign and has not heard from Strother. Gray drove a load of Mississippi-grown sweet potatoes to Pennsylvania after winning the Aug. 4 primary, but said he plans to live off his own savings for the next several weeks so he will have time to campaign. He said the state Democratic Party has set up a Twitter account on his behalf.

“I’m trying to take care of paperwork. Just trying to get organized and call people back,” Gray said in a phone interview. “A lot of people have called.”

Bryant campaign spokeswoman Michelle Marston dismissed Strother’s effort.

“I suppose D.C. consultants are always looking for a way to make an extra buck,” Marston said in a statement. “Regardless, the governor is going to run a campaign on his record over the next few months.”

Marston said that since Bryant took office, unemployment has decreased, education spending has increased and the state has restored its financial reserves. Gray said Mississippi’s economy is struggling, a school funding formula has been shortchanged and Bryant’s opposition to expanding Medicaid has hurt the uninsured and added to financial problems at hospitals.

Bryant has spent nearly $556,000 on his campaign since January and still had $2.8 million cash on hand at the end of July, according to his most recent finance report. He defeated a Republican primary opponent who reported spending less than $1,000.

Gray reported raising and spending no money before he defeated two candidates in the Democratic primary - Vicki Slater, an attorney who spent nearly $236,000; and Dr. Valerie Adream Smartt Short, an OB-GYN who spent about $45,500.

Strother made campaign ads in 2011 for Johnny DuPree, the Democrat who lost to Bryant in the governor’s race; and in 2014 for Travis Childers, the Democrat who lost to Republican incumbent Thad Cochran in a U.S. Senate race.

Strother also worked on a campaign to try to remove the Confederate emblem from the Mississippi flag in 2001. In a statewide election, voters decided by a nearly 2-to-1 margin to keep the flag.


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

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