Johnny DuPree, the mayor of Hattiesburg, is now the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor of Mississippi, the first African American to appear on the ballot representing a major party in a run for governor.
“I’m just so proud of the fact that we had people who believed in us, believed in the message, believed in what we’re trying to accomplish,” DuPree told the Associated Press. “I’m so proud that people took a hold of that.”
DuPree beat Bill Luckett, a developer and businessman from Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta. DuPree campaigned on improvements in education and on his success in bringing jobs and new businesses to his city.
DuPree was outgunned in campaign spending — Luckett spent more than $1 million on his campaign for the runoff vote, while DuPree spent less than half that — but DuPree crisscrossed the state, making speeches and shaking hands everywhere he could, and that personal approach paid off.
DuPree and Luckett were forced into a runoff when neither candidate grabbed a majority of votes cast in a four-man primary August 2.
DuPree did get the most votes, however, a signal of strength that Luckett chose to ignore. In the runoff, Luckett focused his attention on Phil Bryant, Mississippi’s lieutenant governor and the Republican nominee. That proved a failed strategy.
DuPree, 57, will face Bryant, 56, in the general election November 8.
Mississippi has a large African American population — 37 percent of the state’s 2.9 million citizens are black, and most vote Democratic. Nevertheless, the state is considered solidly Republican. John McCain, not Barack Obama, won Mississippi in the 2008 presidential election.
But DuPree talked about how a Democrat could win election in a red state in an interview with Politic365 earlier in the campaign. He has served on the school board for Forrest County, in south-central Mississippi, and has been mayor of Hattiesburg since 2001. He has won many contests.
“Every election that I’ve been in, the way we won was through people on the ground, going door to door,” DuPree told Politic365. “We’re doing a listening campaign, going around the state, talking about the issues. It is the ground game that is going to make the difference.”
Tuesday evening, Luckett issued a strong statement in support of DuPree. “I have come to know Mayor DuPree well,” Luckett said. “I regard him as a friend and someone who loves this great state as I do. He has showcased his leadership credentials. Just look at Hattiesburg. He has showcased his desire to serve ALL Mississippians. Mayor DuPree can lead us into the future. He is a fellow Mississippian who deserves and has earned my support and he’s got it. Tonight, we stand with Mayor DuPree as he launches his campaign for Governor of Mississippi.”