Mississippi Election Into Its Final Week

Voters must digest one more week of campaign rhetoric. And then it will be their turn to send a message to the candidates. A total of 261 names will appear on ballots across south Mississippi.

Some of those names are running for statewide office. Others are seeking a county position. And they all have one thing in common. They need to convince voters like George Thatcher that they should be elected next Tuesday.

"I think it's a new day for south Mississippi," thought Thatcher as he drank a cup of coffee.

Thatcher is part of a group that spends each morning sipping coffee, tea or water while sharing ideas. One minute, they're talking about Ole Miss football Seconds later, they turn their attention to politics.

Harry Bell says the political focus right now is on one race in next Tuesday's election.

"At this table, for weeks, it's Wayne Brown versus Larry Benefield," he said.

That, of course, is the race for transportation commissioner. Ironically, the coffee club inside Triplett Day Drugs says it's not roadside traffic, but traffic at ballot boxes that will ultimately determine who wins.

"I'm afraid it's going to be a slow turnout," lamented Bell.

Christene Brice is also fearful of that, though she tries to remain upbeat.

"Welcome, with a smile," the cheery Harrison County Election Commissioner said to several poll workers at a Monday training seminar.

A slow turnout would wipe the smiles right off their faces. They were warned at the training session that November 6 may not produce the kind of turnout normally linked to a statewide election year.

Toni Jo Diaz is chairman of the election commission.

"Most definitely, because of Katrina and people being so displaced," she said.

It's interesting to note that so far, Harrison County has had 525 absentee ballots filled out for next week's election. That's more absentee votes than in the August primary. But it's significantly less than the statewide election four years ago. So what does that mean for voter turnout next week?

"It's just a wait and see game now," thought Diaz. "We just don't know. We can't predict since Katrina. We just can't predict them."