Why state Democrats are keeping their candidate list secret

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Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press

Bobby Moak, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party.

The Mississippi Democratic Party wants to keep its slate of candidates confidential – at least until March 1.

Voters wondering about Republican candidates for statewide and district offices, such as legislator or district attorney, can visit the Mississippi Republican Party website and find out.

People can do the same by visiting the Secretary of State’s website to find out about candidates opting to run for office as independents or third-party candidates.

But the Mississippi Democratic Party is not offering the same information. No information can be found on its website about who has qualified to run as a Democrat this year in state elections.

“If candidates want to announce, they can do it,” said Bobby Moak, the chair of the Mississippi Democratic Party.

Some Democrats have announced their intentions to run, including Attorney General Jim Hood, who is running for governor, and many legislative candidates.

But Moak said party officials have made the decision not to release their candidates’ list until the March 1 deadline to qualify to run for office. At that time, Moak said the party will turn its list over to the Secretary of State’s office as law mandates and make it public then.

The leader of the state Republican Party suggested the strategy might signal that Democrats have weak field of candidates this election year.

“When you get strong candidates, it’s easy to want to post a list,” said Lucien Smith, chair of the state Republican Party, when asked about the Democrats’ decision.

The Republicans update their list each Friday to include the latest qualifiers.

It is not exactly clear why the Democrats are not making their list public, but Moak pushed back on the GOP leader’s suggestion about the strength of their candidates.

“I am pleased with the field of candidates who have given us their intent to seek office this year,” he said, adding that he believes Democrats will be competitive in a multitude of races across the state.

Moak said he has had candidates tell him they support keeping the list private until March 1 and that keeping the list private does not violate state law.

Leah Rupp Smith, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, confirmed that state law does not require the parties to make the lists public before the 5 p.m. March 1 filing deadline.

Rep. Jeramey Anderson, D-Escatawpa, said he did not know that was the policy of the party and that he intends to inquire about it.

“I am definitely for transparency,” he added.

The list of qualifiers, particularly for legislative seats, is of intense interest as Republicans try to maintain their three-fifths supermajority in each chamber and Democrats search for viable candidates capable of curtailing those majorities.

With the decision of Democrats not to release and update their list of candidates, their chances of picking up legislative seats this year will be difficult to ascertain.

Rep. David Baria of Bay St. Louis, who is the House Democratic leader, said he is aware of the policy and questioned its wisdom – even suggesting it might backfire.

“A lot of the members (incumbents) have said if their names are made public, it might discourage (challengers) from qualifying in their district” he said.