Gray has a remarkably simple and catchy theme. As he stated in a post-nomination interview, “People complain about our governor. I’m basically going to do the opposite of what he’s doing.” One resident of Terry, Gary Downing, who did not know Gray, said about his campaign strategy, “Can’t do no worse than what we’ve got.” Gray admits that his shyness keeps him from acting like most politicians, saying that he is hesitant to approach strangers because he is afraid to interrupt them. As proof that the man is the Democratic reincarnation of Calvin Coolidge, his CB radio handle is Silent Knight, because he listens more than he talks.
For the large portion of Americans who wouldn’t elect Donald Trump as a hall monitor, let alone allow any of the other 85 presidential candidates from either party watch their dog, Mississippi’s upcoming gubernatorial campaign may be the solution. Meet Robert Gray; an admittedly inhibited 46 year-old long-haul trucker from the tiny town of Terry, just south of Jackson, Mississippi. Gray, who is hardly known by anybody even in his hometown, save his mother who he lives with, became the state’s Democratic candidate for governor after pulling off an astounding primary victory last month. Gray beat out well-funded attorney Vicki Slater and retired physician Dr. Valerie Short, earning 51 percent of the total Democratic primary vote, thus avoiding a runoff. Slater, who ran an organized campaign and spent over $200,000, netted 31 percent of the vote, with Short gaining a little over 18 percent. Gray is going to be the main opposition to Republican incumbent Phil Bryant.
As a registered Democrat who met the age and residency requirements to be a candidate for Governor, all Gray needed to do was file the $300 filing fee with the state Democratic Party along with the qualifying paperwork, which he did. Gray did not even tell his relatives that he was on the ballot; in fact his mother, who did vote for him, assumed that she was voting for someone with the same name as her son, not actually her son. Campaign records show no evidence of fundraising or any kind of social media presence for the surprise nominee. Gray himself actually forgot to vote, admitting that he was running errands in Jackson and working on his rig during the August 4th election. After realizing he won the primary and conducting a few interviews with flabbergasted reporters, Gray took off in his truck to deliver a load of sweet potatoes to Pennsylvania… true story.
It would appear that Gray won the primary by existing as a human being. Including his mother, not one of the 146,387 people who voted for him in the primary actually knew who the man was when they cast their votes. While utterly baffling to many, there are a few factors that can help to explain Gray’s nomination. First of all as he admits, “Robert is kind of a common name, and most people have a Robert in their family, so it comforts them to see a familiar name. It might have had something to do with it being two women, but I hope that wasn’t the case.” His name was also the first on the ballot, which may have been enough for many Democratic primary voters. Mississippi allows voters of any party to vote in primaries. Mississippi is, of course, a Republican stronghold in national elections, but many local candidates for positions like coroner, tax-assessor, and supervisor, still run as Democrats, keeping an affiliation to the party which dominated the south for generations. Given that slightly more people voted in the Democratic primary than the Republican primary, it would seem that many who voted out of local concerns may have put less focus on the state-level contest.
Despite his stunning nomination however, it would be a mistake to consider Gray in over his head, or a fringe candidate. In a state that ranks last or near last in most economic and standard of living indices, Gray has a remarkably simple and catchy theme. As he stated in a post-nomination interview, “People complain about our governor. I’m basically going to do the opposite of what he’s doing.” One resident of Terry, Gary Downing, who did not know Gray, said about his campaign strategy, “Can’t do no worse than what we’ve got.” Gray admits that his shyness keeps him from acting like most politicians, saying that he is hesitant to approach strangers because he is afraid to interrupt them. As proof that the man is the Democratic reincarnation of Calvin Coolidge, his CB radio handle is Silent Knight, because he listens more than he talks.
Much like Silent Cal however, when Gray does talk politics it is obvious that he has put much thought into his everyman-intellectual arguments. His main objective is to expand Medicaid in the state, an issue dear to him as he, like many in his profession, lacks health insurance. He believes in evidence showing that the more people that are enrolled means the lower the individual costs. Gray also believes that investments in infrastructure and education will ultimately benefit everyone in the state, directly and indirectly. He also wishes to reverse the current economic course to resemble the pre-recession era. Using his 20-plus years of driving as an example, Gray said,”I used to have more loads and get paid more money. The cost of operating was way cheaper, and everything was just better.” Despite being an African-American, race does not appear to be a major factor in Gray’s platform. Instead, he references the states woes, its untapped potential, and the blue collar ethic that matches the literal blue collar he wears. Gray explained his motivation for entering the campaign, “I said I could do better than that. And it’s like any other thing, you do what you’ve got to do to go down there and get involved. It’s one of those things where you’ve done it before you know you’ve done it.”
Daily Caller – Paul Conner
Jackson Free Press – R.L. Nave
New York Times – Campbell Robertson