Billionaire businessman Thomas Duff of Hattiesburg might be the ideal person to challenge Mississippi’s two-party political system.

Reporting by Mississippi Today’s Geoff Pender revealed that Duff is seriously contemplating running in 2027 as a Republican for the open seat of governor.

But what if Duff chose the radical path of running as an independent? Could he win?

READ MORE: Will a Mississippi billionaire run for governor in the poorest state?

Granted, there is no certainty at this point that Duff is even running, and he has likely not even considered an independent candidacy. But Duff would be in a unique position to launch what would be a historic independent campaign that might be the political unknown’s easiest path to victory.

Numerous polls through the years have shown that Americans have an unfavorable opinion of at least one of the two major parties and a negative overall view of the two-party system.

But one of the primary obstacles for a candidate not affiliated with a major party, especially in a poor state like Mississippi, is the inability to raise campaign funds. Money would presumably not be an issue for Duff, who owns the Southern Tire Mart chain and has, along with his brother Jim Duff, a reported net worth of $7 billion.

The conventional wisdom is that if Duff does run, he could and would self-finance his campaign. Not many Mississippians could write themselves a check for the $12 million or more that is typically needed to run a serious statewide campaign for governor, but Duff is one of them.

Duff would be much different than any past independent or third party candidate in Mississippi, and a case could be made that he would get more bang for his buck as an independent.

If Duff ran as a Republican, he could face the daunting task of needing to spend considerable funds to battle in a party primary against what could be a crowded field of veteran statewide officeholders.

Instead, he could run as an independent, avoid an expensive party primary and direct his personal funds to a November general election, when he would face the Republican and Democratic nominees.

In such a scenario, a winning equation for Duff might be to siphon off a sizable number of votes from the Republican nominee and a smaller number of votes from the Democrat. And if no candidate obtained a majority of the votes, the top two vote-getters would advance to a runoff four weeks after the general election.

Because of Black Mississippians’ allegiance to the Democratic Party, an argument could be made that the Democrat would finish first in the November general election with a little less than 40% of the vote, with Duff and the Republican battling to be the second-place vote-getter and advance to the runoff.

To think such a runoff would not be feasible, remember that in the 2023 gubernatorial election, Democrat Brandon Presley missed a runoff against Republican winner Tate Reeves by about 15,000 votes. And the third-party candidate in that 2023 election did little more than place her name on the ballot.

If Duff made that hypothetical runoff against the Democrat, he most likely would be the favorite. And in a runoff against the Republican, he surely would have a puncher’s chance to prevail.

After all, if Duff made the runoff, people would be seeking him out to make contributions, especially if he was campaigning against the Democrat.

Granted, independents don’t have a successful track record in Mississippi. There are currently two independents in the state House and just a handful of independents on the local level.

In the past independents faced an even more difficult time in Mississippi because of a constitutional provision that made it virtually impossible for an independent or third party candidate to win statewide office.

Until Mississippi voters changed the Constitution in 2020, if a candidate for statewide office did not garner both a majority of the popular vote and win a majority of the 122 House districts, it was left up to House members to select a winner from the top two vote-getters. It was hard to fathom a scenario where the House would not select the major party candidate.

But now, if no candidate obtains a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff.

Independents have won statewide elections in rare instances in other states — Minnesota and Maine, for instance.

Little is known about Duff’s policy positions. He served on the Institutions of Higher Learning Board as an appointee of former Gov. Phil Bryant and has donated to various Republican politicians.

But the persona of being a non-politician running for office as an independent could be appealing — especially if the candidate has the money to highlight that persona statewide.

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