Mississippi's Democratic primary was the first ballot-box test of 1943's anti-New Deal sentiment in the South. The result produced one hard fact: whoever wins in the run-off primary on Aug. 24, Mississippi will have an anti-New Deal Governor for the next four years.
In the primary campaign none of the four candidates spoke a word on Term IV. They also unanimously praised Franklin Roosevelt's foreign policy and unanimously bayed against New Deal "meddling" in the race question. All stood solidly foursquare for white supremacy.
Some 64% of the votes cast went to the two men who damned New Deal domestic policies: onetime Governor Martin Sennett ("Sure Mike") Conner and Thomas L. Bailey, longtime Speaker of Mississippi's House of Representatives. The two candidates who claimed New Deal backing shared the remaining 36%.
Return of "Sure Mike." For Mike Conner, who led the ticket, this was a return to political prestige. An honor graduate of Yale's Law School (1913), Speaker of Mississippi's House at 23, ambitious Mike Conner was the best Governor of Mississippi in many a decade. When he took office in 1932, the Treasury had a $13,500,000 deficit inherited from the Bilbo administration, state bonds were selling at 70¢ on the dollar, state employes and schoolteachers were unpaid, state colleges were unaccredited.
Mike Conner's remedy was a sales tax. The fight over this tax was historic. Outraged Mississippians marched on Jackson, stormed from a mass meeting straight to Mike Conner's office. Outside the locked door an armed man shouted: "What are you peckerwoods waiting for? Let's get that Governor." Mike Conner opened the doors, walked untouched through the crowd. Ten days later his sales tax passed the Legislature. When he left office four years later, the Treasury had a $3,000,000 surplus, colleges had regained their standing, and millions in bonds had been paid off.
Mike Conner, campaigning this year, fired both barrels at the New Deal. Sample: "There is now being waged in this country an internal political, economic and social revolution which would change the form of our government to an absolute totalitarian state of communism or national socialism. They would destroy individual enterprise, regiment and socialize the people, nullify the Constitution and destroy the states. . . . For my part I will fight for States' rights as long as I breathe. ..."
With a New Deal supporter as opponent in the runoff, "Sure Mike" Conner would be certain of election. Against popular Tom Bailey, he is a not-so-sure-Mike. But if he wins, New Dealers can expect fireworks at the 1944 convention: Mike Conner was against Franklin Roosevelt as far back as 1932.