- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The campaign in the mailbox is beginning for residents of certain Mississippi legislative districts. Every trip to the porch, the end of the driveway or the apartment’s mailbox cluster between now and Nov. 3 may bring a flyer promoting or attacking a candidate running for a local House or Senate seat.

Especially in the House of Representatives, where a member represents 24,000 people, direct mail is one of the most effective ways to communicate with voters. The districts are typically so small that most people who see local television and radio ads don’t live in the district. Increasingly, campaign finance reports reflect spending on Facebook and other online ads, although even those can be hard to target down to a legislative district. But the mainstay of campaigning, besides knocking on doors, is the mail.

“Direct mail is one of the best investments you can make in a local race,” said Brandon Jones, executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Trust.

Jones should know. He said he spent more than $50,000 on mail in 2011 in his unsuccessful effort to defend his Jackson County House seat against Republican Charles Busby.

Jones said that while online advertising is evolving quickly, and radio and television can be effective if a campaign’s budget allows, most campaigns start from a “base” of direct mail. That’s because the mailbox remains universal in a world where radio listeners and television viewers may not be consuming local media.



“Most people with a mailbox are going to at least glance at what comes to them,” Jones said.

One of the first battles in the general election war was actually led by Gov. Phil Bryant, who appeared on a series of flyers endorsing Republican legislative candidates. “Governor Bryant supports Vance Cox,” said one of the flyers, endorsing the Republican challenging incumbent Democrat Tom Miles in House District 75 in Rankin and Scott counties. Cox’s campaign finance records show Bryant’s campaign gave him $7,000 in August and September.

Direct mail was a big factor in the defeat of four DeSoto County incumbents in the Republican primary in August. Rep. Forrest Hamilton, an Olive Branch Republican who lost his seat after three terms, said he counted 16 mailers that were sent out against him.

Hamilton said he sent mailers touting his own record, at about $5,000 apiece. But Hamilton said he wasn’t able to react quickly enough to money poured into attacking him. Dana Criswell defeated him in House District 6.

“It was heavily negative,” Hamilton said. “They were putting things out twice a week, maybe three times, real regular.”

House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, a Bogue Chitto Democrat whom Republicans have targeted for defeat, said Democratic incumbents have tried to immunize themselves. In his own race against Republican challenger Vince Mangold, Moak said he and volunteers knocked on 3,000 doors in one weekend in late September.

“The mailbox wars will come,” he said. “We know what’s coming down the road, so we tried to prepare for that.”

Democrats who survived four years ago came back sore about direct mail attacks. House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton jabbed that sore spot when he hired Nathan Wells as chief of staff. A Republican campaign consultant and former state Republican Party employee, Wells helped orchestrate the push against Democrats four years ago. He’s now on leave from the speaker’s office, back helping Gunn run Republican campaigns.

Wells said he thinks Democrats remain weak, hiding from their party label and running as conservatives.

“They’re going to have to answer for their voting record,” Wells said.

And in the Mississippi House, that means mail.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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