John McCain had the Straight Talk Express. Scott Brown had his pickup. Donald Trump has his helicopter – and plane. Some candidates are as well known for how they get around as the races they have run. But trucker Robert Gray and his light-blue big rig may be the most unconventional yet. Gray, whose soft-spoken approach earned him the CB handle “Silent Knight,” shocked Mississippi’s political establishment by winning the Democratic primary for governor this summer, beating two candidates with better funding and political organizations. Experts have offered varying theories as to what happened, from vote meddling to the country’s growing anti-establishment mood, to the possibility that voters simply ticked off the first name they saw on the ballot. … Vicki Slater, a longtime trial lawyer, was expected to win the Democratic nomination with relative ease. According to Slater, she and her staff of six did direct mail, made live and automated calls to voters, earned newspaper endorsements, visited 50 counties, and got the backing of local democratic groups. Even the state party chair, Rickey Cole, was at her announcement. In all, the campaign estimates they spent about $300,000. Robert Gray figures he spent about $50 on gas to go to a handful of events. He won 79 of 82 counties.
… Some have suggested that Gray earned the nomination because his name appeared first on the ballot. Others have argued he may have benefited from having a traditional man’s name. Others, like Vicki Slater, believe that the last remnants of Democrats’ southern hegemony may have helped lift Gray. Like many secessionist states, Mississippi was unbreakably in the hands of Democrats for generations until the past 20 years. But often candidates in local races here still run as Democrats, even if they’re more likely to support Republicans in statewide and federal contests.
“They had no interest in voting in the Democratic primary for state officials because they’re going to vote Republican in the fall,” former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said. “So, they just voted for the first name on the ballot, at the top of the tickets, to get on down to where they could vote for sheriff, for supervisor, and for all the people that run the local government.”
… “I think that when I found out what happened, then I’ll be at peace with it, whatever it was,” Slater said. “But, it’s impossible, unless Mr. Gray has come up with some genius strategy where you can do nothing, spend nothing, go nowhere, and take 79 counties in a three-way primary — unless he’s got some sort of genius strategy for that, something else was going on.”