JACKSON, Miss. — Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree won the Democratic nomination for Mississippi governor, becoming the first black candidate in modern times to win major-party nod for the state’s top job.
DuPree, 57, defeated Clarksdale attorney and developer Bill Luckett in a Democratic primary runoff on Aug. 23.
He advances to the
Nov. 8 general election to face Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, 56, of Brandon.
“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. I’m so proud that people took a hold of that,” DuPree said in a phone interview from a Hattiesburg community center, where he celebrated with family and supporters.
Funding could be a challenge for DuPree in the coming weeks leading to the general election. Bryant already has spent $3.1 million on his campaign, more than twice as much as DuPree and Luckett, combined.
DuPree said he has been outspent in most campaigns he has run, including the first mayoral race he won a decade ago and the gubernatorial primary. Campaign finance reports filed a week before the primary showed Luckett had just over $1 million, while DuPree had spent $481,716.
“We’re going to campaign regardless of whether we have a million dollars or half a million dollars,” DuPree said. “We’re in the race to try to make a difference for the citizens of Mississippi.”
Independent Will Oatis of Silver Creek, who is also black, is running a low-budget campaign for governor. Oatis is a military veteran who served in Afghanistan.
Two rival factions of the Reform Party also want to put a candidate in the governor’s race but the state Board of Election Commissioners has not yet decided which Reform candidate, if either, can to run.
Republican Gov. Haley Barbour could not seek a third term this year.
DuPree is the first black mayor of Hattiesburg. He is running a race-neutral campaign for governor, discussing job creation, education and other issues that cut across demographic and economic lines.
In a 15-second commercial recently posted to his campaign website, DuPree looks directly into the camera and says: “I’m here to talk to you about color — green.”
He holds up a $1 bill and continues: “Better jobs mean more money for Mississippians. And we do that with better schools and safer streets. More green means a better tomorrow.”
With a population that’s 37 percent black, Mississippi now has more black elected officials than any other state in the nation but it hasn’t had a black statewide official since Reconstruction.
Luckett is white. During a primary in which black voters played an important role, Luckett frequently mentioned during speeches that he is a friend and business partner of Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who owns a home in Mississippi.
Before giving a concession speech at a blues club he owns in Clarksdale, Luckett called DuPree to offer congratulations.
“I voiced my support for him and I reiterated what I have said repeatedly: I don’t want to see Phil Bryant get elected,” Luckett, 63, told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Luckett was joined at his election-night party by Freeman, his partner in two Clarksdale businesses, Ground Zero Blues Club and an upscale restaurant called Madidi.
DuPree and Luckett emerged from a four-person primary on Aug. 2 against two candidates who ran low-budget campaigns. Bryant won 59 percent in a five-person primary, avoiding a runoff.
Two other high-profile black politicians ran for Mississippi governor as independents in the 1970s. Charles Evers, brother of slain civil-rights leaders Medgar Evers, ran in 1971. State Sen. Henry Kirksey ran in 1975. Neither had to go through a primary.
Photo: Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree