Robert Gray was driving a truck for his small business Fancy Horse Transportation on Monday. On Tuesday, he was the Democratic nominee for governor of Mississippi.
The 46-year-old from Terry, Mississippi, didn’t even vote in the primary, allegedly too busy operating his independent livestock hauling business. His opponent, incumbent Governor Phil Bryant, has a reported $2.8 million cache in his campaign fund, while Gray is living day to day without health insurance.
It’s not that Gray won by default either. Democrats in Mississippi had two well-funded, hard-working candidates with clear-cut goals and practiced rhetoric. He soundly defeated Vicki Slater, a trial lawyer with the backing of a lot of the Democratic establishment, and Dr. Valerie Adream Smartt Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist—without spending a single penny. In a heartbreaking admission, Slater reportedly told the AP “I did everything I could to win this.” The Daily Beast has reached out to her campaign for comment and has yet to hear back.
Gray earned 51 percent of the vote Tuesday, obliterating Slater, who nabbed only 30.2 percent. A small group of Mississippi Democrats have begun to galvanize support for the candidate, creating a Facebook page with a mere 170 likes.
The Democratic establishment is seemingly holding their breath as they trudge toward the November election with a candidate that is the textbook definition of an Average Joe. The chances of Democrats actually winning the election were always vanishingly small, but Gray’s appearance at the top of the ticket will likely complicate efforts to hold on to the offices they do control in the deep-red state.
“I did not know Mr. Gray prior to Tuesday’s election,” Brandon Jones, the executive director of the Mississippi Democratic Trust, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “This was a very unique moment where you had the two most prominent and most well financed candidates defeated by a person who didn’t raise money.”
The Trust is the Mississippi-based political action committee that helps fund party efforts on various legislative levels. But Jones, who seemed a bit underwater and overwhelmed, said there isn’t enough money to go around to help gubernatorial candidates.
Phil Bryant, for his part, doesn’t seem to view him as any kind of threat.
“I congratulate Robert Gray on his victory on Tuesday,” the governor said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “Over 140,000 voters in the Democrat primary voted for him, placing their confidence in him as their nominee—and he garnered that support without the help of the Democrat establishment in Mississippi.”
Based on early interviews, it seems that Gray will focus his campaign on economic issues, using his experience as a small-business owner to back his rhetoric. And he’s impressed at least one person so far—albeit the guy who’s tasked with keeping what’s left of the state’s Democratic Party alive.
“He seems to have a very good grasp of what’s going on with the Mississippi economy, unlike our current governor, who has never held a private-sector job,” Jones said. “This guy is a small-business man and he understands some of the strains that are going on across the state.”
“We could be careening towards a Welcome to Mooseport moment down here,” he said.
Gray has yet to return a request for comment from The Daily Beast. Probably because he was busy with a campaign that got much more serious overnight.