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Joel the Cattleman Looks to Steer Way to Victory

By now voters are all too familiar with Joe the Plumber and Joe Sixpack. But perhaps they can be forgiven if they’ve never heard of Joel the Cattleman.

[IMGCAP(1)]You see, even with his catchy campaign slogan — “all beef, no bull” — Joel the Cattleman hasn’t exactly had a lot of national television exposure lately. Then again, TV time is hard to come by when you’ve raised only $34,030.38 for your campaign and you’ve been all but written off by your own national party.

But Joel the Cattleman — also known as Democrat Joel Gill, a 38-year veteran of the Mississippi cattle trade and two-term alderman from the town of Pickens, Miss. — says he knew his campaign was catching on when he was recently handing out literature about his long-shot bid to replace retiring Rep. Chip Pickering (R) in Mississippi’s 3rd district. Gill recalled watching in shock as one man crumpled up his campaign card, hurled it to the ground and shouted, “The liberal wing of your party is the right hand of Satan!”

Gill took the encounter as a good sign. Someone actually cared enough to hate him.

“If I’m that big of a threat to [Republicans], hey, I wasn’t supposed to win in the first place,” Gill said.

There are several really good reasons Gill wasn’t, and still isn’t, supposed to win his race against former Rankin County Republican Chairman Gregg Harper, who won the GOP primary this past spring.

First, the 3rd district is a conservative stronghold that President Bush carried by about 30 points in both 2000 and 2004. Pickering easily won all six of his elections and didn’t even draw a Democratic opponent in his previous two races. In 2002, a redrawn map pitted Pickering against two-term Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows, a man who had served in several state offices before being elected to Congress. Despite massive Democratic spending, Pickering beat Shows that year 64 percent to 35 percent.

This cycle Gill is facing a man who proved his political savvy in a tough, multicandidate primary field. Since then, Harper has earned the firm backing of the national party and has raised more than $1 million since entering the race.

And then there’s the little detail that Gill doesn’t exactly live in the 3rd district, although it’s awfully close.

Republicans have hammered Gill for running in the 3rd while living outside the district, but Gill said that it’s not like doing so is unprecedented in the history of Mississippi politics.

“It has hurt somewhat,” Gill acknowledged. “But what has hurt more than anything else is the national party not wanting to contribute a dime and folks not wanting to help, saying, ‘You’re a great guy. We think you’d make a wonderful Congressman, but you’re not supposed to win this district, and we have a very hotly contested Senate race, … so we’re going to give our money to those people and good luck, Joel.’”

But Gill believes momentum is developing, especially given the current national environment and since he’s begun a limited TV and radio advertising buy.

“In the last three weeks, we’ve had over $40,000 come in,” Gill said. And that has fit perfectly into his strategy of playing possum in a Republican stronghold.

“Part of that was on purpose because if we called attention to this race, the national Republican Party would want to dump some money into it,” he said.

Republicans say Gill is dreaming if he thinks he has any chance this fall — possum or no possum.

“Pickering is politically smart and popular with the voters, but there is something to be said about a district when you beat a fellow incumbent Congressman 2-1,” said Brian Perry, a former spokesman for Pickering who now serves as a partner with the Republican consulting firm Capstone Public Affairs. “The demographics haven’t changed and Joel Gill has no money, no base, and doesn’t even live in the district. Gill won’t win. It’s a bad year for Republicans, but not that bad.”

That hasn’t stopped Gill from campaigning on a couple of messages he thinks will resonate strongly with 3rd district voters.

“My main issue is wanting to make Social Security solvent and also make certain we have a revamping of the veterans administration,” Gill said.

But Gill also believes he can be a voice for the cattle industry, which he’s been a part of for almost 40 years, if he comes to Congress.

“The cattle market is so small in the total U.S. economy that [Congress] is willing to write it off,” Gill said. “You’ve got a Congressman in Connecticut that has very few cattle or you’ve got a Congressman in downtown New York City, you reckon they’re really up on cattle issues?”

As far as Gill sees it, Congress essentially tells the cattle market, “You guys are so small we’ll sacrifice you on the altar of world trade.”

So what will Gill do to promote cattle trade issues for his district if he is elected in November?

Well, the Department of Homeland Security is currently considering building a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, and Flora, Miss., is one of six potential sites the government is considering for the new lab. Harper supports the job development that would come with having the lab in Mississippi, but Gill believes the new lab shouldn’t come anywhere near the mainland United States.

“There have been over 20 accidental releases of pathogens [from the current lab] and any one of them could be devastating to the animal agriculture industry in the United States. … If that occurs, it could be hugely damaging to our trade. … I’m not opposed to economic development, [but bringing the lab to Mississippi] is economic stupidity.”

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