Truck driver wins nomination for governor — without a campaign

by Scott Stump / / Source: TODAY

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Robert Gray is a long-haul trucker who raised no money, had no website and had a primary campaign so non-existent that his own mother didn't even know about it.

Meet the Democratic candidate for governor in Mississippi.

In a political season full of surprises, observers are mystified about the nomination of Gray, 46, who forgot he was even running for governor until he flipped on the TV on election night last month and found out he beat three challengers for the Democratic nomination. He didn't even vote for himself on election day, yet still pulled in 146,387 votes. He ended with 51 percent of the total vote, 20 percent more than his next candidate, to set himself up as the challenger to incumbent Republican governor Phil Bryant.

"What happened in the primary was shocking to a lot of people,'' Vicki Slater, who finished second to Gray in the primary, told TODAY Friday.

"Insane or embarrassing — one of the two,'' Sam Hall, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi, told TODAY.

Gray estimates he spent about "$50 or $60" on his campaign. He had no social media presence, no signs in the yard or bumper stickers, nothing. He decided to pay the $300 to enter the race out of frustration with the current state of politics in the state.

"The only people who knew I was running were the people when I went in to qualify,'' Gray told Willie Geist.

"I called him and I said, 'Robert, you're running for governor?" Judie Gray, Robert's mother, told TODAY.

Gray's nomination has led to conspiracy theories about how it could have possibly happened. Gray thinks that maybe it happened because he has a common name that was at the top of the ballot, while others have speculated it was because he was the only male candidate. There's also the theory that the state's Republican party leaders put him up to it.

"I categorically deny any Jedi mind trick-related activity with regard to Robert Gray,'' Joe Nosef, the chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, told TODAY.

"It's impossible,'' Slater said. "Unless Mr. Gray has come up with some genius of a political strategy where you can do nothing, spend nothing, go nowhere and take 79 counties in a three-way primary, unless he has some sort of genius strategy for that, something else was going on."

Gray is now a longshot against Bryant in the heavily-Republican state. The independent truck driver who drives a rig he calls "Old Faithful" has raised a little over $2,000 for his campaign since he got the nomination. Bryant's campaign already has $2.8 million in the war chest.

"They want a governor that wants to help, wants to do good, that wants to make the best of what's available,'' Gray told Geist. "I'm ready to do the job as governor."

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