- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Truck driver Robert Gray won the Democratic nomination for Mississippi governor on Tuesday, although he reported spending no money on his campaign and said he didn’t vote in the primary because he was too busy.

Gray toppled Vicki Slater, a trial lawyer who was backed by many party leaders, and Dr. Valerie Adream Smartt Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist and military veteran.

Gray will face first-term Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara in the Nov. 3 general election.

Bryant easily defeated Mitch Young of Sumrall, a Navy veteran who ran a low-budget campaign.

“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, making his first run for public office, told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Tuesday that he was busy all day 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.

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 said.

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.

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.

Former state Sen. Tim Johnson won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

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

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

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,” Pickering said Tuesday 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.

Temperatures topped 100 degrees in parts of Mississippi as voters cast ballots.

“It is our right to vote, and we always do,” Jean McLaurin, 66, said as she and her husband, James McLaurin, 77, left a precinct in the Jackson suburb of Madison.

Circuit clerks reported heavy turnout in some counties, particularly in places with contested local races for sheriff and superintendent of education. Others, however, reported sparse and “mediocre” turnouts.

Ballots also include some primaries for public service commissioner and transportation commissioner. A long list of legislative primaries was decided. On the county level, voters were choosing party nominees for sheriff, supervisor, circuit clerk, chancery clerk and other offices.

If runoffs are needed, they will be held Aug. 25. Democratic and Republican nominees will advance to the general election, when some third-party candidates also will be on the ballot.


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


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

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