Forty-one Neshoba County Fair speeches later, primaries loom

Published 6:11 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023

By Sid Salter

NESHOBA COUNTY FAIR­­ – For 134 years now, the Neshoba County Fair has remained Mississippi’s premier political stump. Delivering a speech from the Founder’s Square Pavilion under the old oaks has long been a rite of passage for statewide politicians.

This year, 41 political speeches are scheduled over three days. Fair rules offer speaking opportunities for state, district and Neshoba County/local candidates and public officials.

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U.S. presidential candidates have spoken there over the years, including Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis, Jack Kemp and John Glenn. Donald Trump Jr. spoke there in 2016 on behalf of his father as did Neil Bush in 1988 on behalf of his father.

But from a statewide political standpoint, four speeches will draw the greatest amount of attention – the final two speeches on Wednesday, July 26, and the final two speeches on Thursday, July 27. While there are no actual debates at this year’s Fair, the speeches of that quartet of candidates will draw significant scrutiny.

The Tuesday, July 25, political speaking will be exclusively for Neshoba County office seekers in county or legislative contests. Contested races for sheriff, constable, circuit clerk and chancery clerk should make for a lively program.

On Wednesday, July 26, district and down-ticket statewide candidates will speak, including Central District Public Service Commissioner candidates incumbent Brent Bailey (R) and challenger DeKeither Stamps (D); Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce candidates incumbent Andy Gipson (R) and challengers Terry Rogers II (D), Bethany Hill (D) and Robert “Brad” Bradford (D).

Also slated for Wednesday speaking at Neshoba will be incumbent Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney (R), incumbent Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R) and challenger Greta Kemp Martin (D).

The rest of the scheduled Wednesday lineup will be candidates for lieutenant governor, including incumbent Delbert Hosemann (R) and challengers Shane Quick (R), Tiffany Longino (R), and state Sen. Chris McDaniel.

McDaniel and Hosemann will speak back-to-back Wednesday the 26th at 10:20 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. and should be the most heavily anticipated and scrutinized speeches of the day.

Statewide voters have elected Hosemann three times for secretary of state and once for lieutenant governor while rejecting McDaniel in statewide races for U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2018.

The Neshoba County Fair political speaking lineup for Thursday, July 27, will include state Rep. Scott Bounds (also the new president of the Neshoba County Fair Association board of directors), Secretary of State candidates incumbent Michael Watson (R) and challenger Shuwaski Young (D), State Treasurer candidates Addie Lee Green (D) and incumbent David McRae (R), State Auditor candidates Larry Bradford (D) and incumbent Shad White (R), and incumbent Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons (D).

Also speaking Thursday in a finale to his current tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives will be Philip Gunn (R) of Clinton, who is not seeking re-election this year.

There will be four candidates for Mississippi governor speaking on Thursday, including Republican challengers David Hardigree and Dr. John Witcher, Democrat challenger and current Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley and incumbent Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who is seeking a second term.

Presley will speak at 10:30 a.m. followed by Reeves at 10:40 a.m.

Without question, the back-to-back Hosemann–McDaniel matchup Wednesday and the back-to-back Presley–Reeves showdown on Thursday will be the marquee political speeches of the week. All four candidates are expected to draw raucous crowds of supporters.

Political stump speaking is nothing if not performance art and the Neshoba County Fair has long been the province of crowds that make themselves heard both in favor of their chosen candidates and against their opponents. But the Fair likewise provides security and logistics to keep the process organized, consistent and under control.

In the last decade, the Fair Association has taken steps to keep candidates from intentionally going over their 10-minute speech time limits, which are explicitly explained to them multiple times before the event. This year, candidates should expect that time limit rule to be consistently observed.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at