Charles Dunagin: Tupelo visit had a twist

By CHARLES DUNAGIN GUEST COLUMNIST,

It makes sense that President Donald Trump picked Tupelo as the site of a campaign rally to fire up Republicans four days before the Mississippi general election.

After all, Tupelo is the largest city in Northeast Mississippi, an area that is a key base of support for Democrat Jim Hood from nearby Houston. Why not bring in the big name where it’s needed most?

Also, Tupelo has an airport  big enough to land Air Force One.

According to the Associated Press, the Republican president’s reelection campaign announced plans for the rally at the BancorpSouth Arena on Nov. 1. The wire service noted that the Trump statement made no mention of the gubernatorial showdown between Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Democratic Attorney General Hood. However, Republicans have been hoping for a visit from Trump to boost turnout, and Reeves eagerly greeted the announcement.

Reeves probably needs the support of the president more than the other Republican nominees, all of whom are expected to win by comfortable margins.

If the president is true to form, the rally will be more about himself than Reeves or the other Republican nominees, but there isn’t much doubt that Trump will draw a huge crowd — maybe even the Tupelo mayor, an open supporter of Hood, if they’ll let him in the door.

And this is yet another interesting aspect of the Tupelo visit.

Mayor Jason Shelton, a Democrat, writes a column that appears on Mondays in his hometown newspaper, the Daily Journal.

This week’s column is an open endorsement of Hood for governor.

“The governor’s election is unique in that both major candidates have been statewide officials for more than a decade,” Shelton wrote. “We have first-hand knowledge of the temperament, demeanor, and personalities of each candidate. I have spoken to Republican and Democrat officials from all over the state who are quietly supporting Hood, but are afraid of the well-known political retaliation tendencies of Lt. Gov. Reeves. I refuse to let fear for my political future prevent me from campaigning for the best candidate.”

However, Shelton was quoted in last week’s newspaper as saying he hopes to be among those greeting the president to Tupelo.

The newspaper reported   Shelton sent a letter to the  president on Oct. 8 saying he was aware of Trump’s visit and wanted to request the opportunity to greet and welcome the president.

“During your last visit to Tupelo, I did not have the opportunity to officially greet you as President of the United States when you were here to campaign for Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, but would hope to have that opportunity during this campaign visit,” Shelton wrote.

Shelton received some criticism last year for not attending Trump’s rally for Hyde-Smith, but  Shelton said he was not invited.

He said he is being proactive this year to try and request a meeting with Trump.

I’m not sure how much weight political endorsements carry. Some probably more than others, and in Mississippi being pro-Trump is an obvious advantage among many white voters.

In this race, though, a non-endorsement might be just as telling.

Bill Waller Jr., the former chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court who lost the second primary race to Reeves, has declined to endorse the Republican nominee.

How the Waller voters turn out and vote in the general election could be more significant than Trump’s support of Reeves which the lieutenant governor already had  regardless of the visit.

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