JACKSON-- Robert Gray, a trucker from the small Mississippi town of Terry and an unknown, won the Democratic primary in the Mississippi race for governor, despite the fact that he never campaigned. In fact, his own mother never knew that he was running.
Robert Gray owes his victory to two main factors-- (i) that his name was first on the ballot and (ii) that Mississippi voters do not to register by party, meaning that Republicans could vote in the Democratic primaries if they do not want to vote in their own party’s primary.
Gray won roughly 51% of the vote, beating two candidates who actually ran campaigns: Vicki Slater, a trial lawyer, and Dr. Valerie Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
This is by no means an isolated incident for Southern Democrats-- as the Democratic party has lost all of the hold that it once had over the South, statewide elections are almost certain to go to Republicans candidates, and serious candidates are often beaten by the first name on the ballot. For instance, in Tennessee, a man named “Charlie Brown” won the 2014 Democratic primary for governor, thanks in large part to the fact that his name was first on the ballot. Brown, a retiree, sent letter to state newspapers in which he commented that he would like to strap the Tennessee governor to an electric chair, due to Brown’s anger over the governor’s death sentence policies.
Gray’s win is evidence of the dismal state of Democrats in the South, and their growing irrelevance in Southern statewide elections-- in the Deep South, the Republican primary could be considered is the only vote that counts in gubernatorial elections, ie. the de- facto general election.**
Uncompetitive elections and partisanship: Are uncompetitive general elections a threat to democracy, or merely a sign of deeply held beliefs? Is such partisanship an example of the threat of faction, as Madison mentioned in Federalist paper #10? Or rather, is it not a threat because their party allegiance comes from beliefs about what is best for the nation, and is not a case of putting the good of the party over the good of the people?
Do frivolous elections alway spell bad news for our democracy?
States’ voting procedures: Additionally, should all states have voters register by party? Would the election results have been different if only registered Democrats could vote in the Democratic primary?
**(Note that this only refers to the Deep South. Some States in the upper South, such as Kentucky, Missouri, and Virginia, have Democratic governors.)
Sources:New York Times Article
Article from "The Tennessean," a Tennessee local newspaper
Image source: Andrea Morales for the New York Times, from the same article cited above.