One week out of the year, the political epicenter of Mississippi moves to the Neshoba County Fair. Elected officials, campaigns, and the press pilgrimage to Founders Square to pray in the annual liturgy and rites of Mississippi politics. Speakers praise or defame issues or candidates eliciting cheers or jeers from a congregation waving signs and fans and fingers.

I enjoy the pageantry. Every telephone poll dressed in political signs; homemade posters link Ronnie Musgrove to Barack Obama; free bottled water with campaign logos; push cards and stickers litter the wood shaving ground; and you hardly notice the hot air from the stage in the triple digit weather.

The U.S. Senate candidates spoke back to back on Wednesday. Talk of a debate between Sen. Roger Wicker and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove never materialized. Open Senate races are rare events, this being only the fifth in the past 65 years. Rarer more are Fair debates of which there have been only two in 113 years of political speaking.

One Fair rumor whispers that Musgrove will send someone in a chicken suit to taunt Wicker for not debating him. White supremacist Jim Giles used a chicken suit in his quixotic campaigns against U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering. And costumes at the Fair in recent years include a giant piece of Green Okra criticizing Musgrove as he sought the presidency of Delta State University (whose unofficial mascot is "The Fighting Okra") while running for reelection; and a Garfield the cat costume from trial lawyer Mitch Tyner to pitch the "Washington fat cat" angle against Gov. Haley Barbour. But a chicken suit just lacks the clever imagination of a giant vegetable, a cartoon, a culled cow, or a big toe.

Former Jackson state legislator Erik Fleming, representing the Lyndon LaRouche wing of the Democratic Party, also spoke Wednesday. Even Democrat leaders privately dismiss his race against Republican Senator Thad Cochran.

On Thursday, Fair goers will hear speeches from candidates for the Supreme Court and congress.

Jim Smith, Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, is seeking his third eight-year term from Mississippi's 22-county central district which includes Madison County. A former prosecutor, district attorney and county judge, Smith's leadership has cleared the court's backlog of direct appeal cases. A coalition of conservatives, business and medical interests, and traditional Republican types support him. This Fair isn't Smith first rodeo; his boots have been stained many times by Neshoba's red clay campaigning.

Crystal Springs trial lawyer Jim Kitchens is challenging Smith. Also a former district attorney, roughly half of his campaign contributions came from out-of-state plaintiff and medical malpractice attorneys, most of the other half from in-state trial lawyers. Kitchens served as defense counsel for Byron De La Beckwith in his 1994 trial for the murder of Medgar Evers, and defended Jennifer Diaz, wife of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, when she ultimately plead guilty to tax evasion in a case related to judicial bribery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Kitchens' current law partner was previously law partner with former Supreme Court Justice Chuck McRae. Kitchens served in state and national leadership roles for the trial lawyers' associations, and his campaign contributors are a "who's who" of lawsuit attorneys.

A third candidate in the race, former Chancery Judge Ceola James of Vicksburg, is not speaking.

The Third Congressional District race pits Republican Gregg Harper against Democrat Joel Gill: both speak Thursday. Conventional wisdom gives this race to Harper, but Gill, a cattleman, continues to run on perhaps an ill-timed campaign theme of "All Beef - No Bull." Harper will join State Auditor Stacey Pickering - cousin of current Rep. Chip Pickering - for the annual Pickering lunch after the speeches behind the Pavilion at the newly rebuilt cabin of Paul Breazeale.

In his Thursday address, Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to remind voters of the contrast of Mississippi today from the condition Musgrove's administration left it in 2003.

Speeches change few minds in the partisan crowd. The Fair marks the final push toward the November election effectively kicking-off the fall campaign's final 100 days. Beyond the speechifying and media buzz, there is a pureness to campaigning at the Fair.

Sitting on a porch Sunday afternoon, I watched Sen. Roger Wicker go up a cabin lined street meeting people, posing for pictures, visiting families and making conversation. Coming down that same street on the other side was Chief Justice Jim Smith handing out signs and push cards and taking his case to the voters with no filter. These Mississippians met and spoke with a U.S. Senator and the state's top judicial officer on their own front porch in a matter of minutes. In a time of television commercials, sound bytes, gotcha journalism, and staged events, watching personal campaigning was as refreshing as Sunday's showers. The candidates walked through a lot of red mud, but didn't sling a bit during person to person visits over sweet tea on a Neshoba County Fair porch.

Brian Perry of Jackson, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at