Will McMillin Run as an Independent?
UPDATE - 2/26/2011 - WLBT-Channel 3 reports that both Malcolm McMillin and Tyrone Lewis qualified for sheriff as Democrats on Friday, February 25. This sets up a rematch of their 2007 primary battle.
Mississippi will elect its state and county officials this year, and March 1 is the qualifying deadline for all offices except the legislature. The Democrats thus far are fielding candidates for just two of the eight statewide offices-- governor and attorney general. Moreover, the governorship looks to be the only contested statewide race in the August Democratic primary, as attorney general Jim Hood has no primary opposition. If this holds up, of course, the elections for the other six statewide offices will be determined in the Republican primary.
Here in Hinds County, the most populous county and seat of the state capital, elections for county officials have for years been decided in the Democratic primary. Veteran sheriff Malcolm McMillin, one of only a few white county officeholders here, has announced that he will seek a sixth term; however-- interestingly-- he has not yet filed qualifying papers. In fact, just one candidate, a Democrat, has so far filed for sheriff. While I certainly am not privy to McMillin's thinking, I suspect that he may be contemplating running as an independent instead of as a Democrat. Here are some reasons why the sheriff, a very shrewd politician, may consider this to be his best route to victory this year:
~~ If the races for the six statewide offices are indeed decided in the August Republican primary, many whites will vote GOP and will thus be unable to vote for McMillin if he runs in the Democratic primary. Republican primary voters will be eligible to vote for him, however, if he runs as an independent, since the November general election is the only election in which independents are on the ballot.
~~ Johnny Dupree, the black mayor of Hattiesburg, promises to run a vigorous campaign for governor in the Democratic primary. This will presumably increase the black turnout in that primary. While Sheriff McMillin has a large following among blacks, a huge black turnout in the primary would seem to work against him overall (remember that Tyrone Lewis, who is black, gave the sheriff a tough contest in the 2007 Democratic primary).
~~ 50-plus percent is required to win a party primary, but a candidate can win the November general election with less than 50 percent. With McMillin running as an independent, the winner of the Democratic primary would certainly be black. And if one or more black independents also run, that would split the anti-McMillin vote.
There are also potential downsides to an independent candidacy for McMillin:
~~ His longtime ally, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Bolton, is a diehard Democrat and would likely be reluctant to back a white independent against the winner of the Democratic primary, who would be black.
~~ Most black voters are accustomed to voting a straight Democratic ticket in November. Despite McMillin's support among blacks, many of them may find it difficult to choose a white independent over a Democratic nominee who is black. And many may think that it's high time that black-majority Hinds County elected a black sheriff.
We'll have some answers by next Tuesday.
 It's always possible, to be sure, that there will be independent and/or minor party candidates.
 This is true of all partisan offices except for statewide state offices.