September 3, 2019

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Latest News, Mississippi

ICYMI: Columnist: Hood “Smiling After Mississippi’s GOP Runoff”

In case you missed it, a well-known columnist and political science professor discussed all the reasons why a costly runoff benefits Mississippi Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jim Hood’s campaign.

Michael Nelson argues Reeves is a weaker nominee for Hood to face because of his unpopular agenda, unlikability, and Hood’s unique appeal to Mississippi voters.

My how the tables have turned. In March, Reeves’ campaign sent out an email gleefully touting the possibility of a costly runoff that would hurt Jim Hood. Only to find themselves in a runoff costing Reeves millions of dollars.

Read more about why Reeves is an unlikable, weak nominee for the Mississippi GOP below:

Daily Memphian: Nelson: Who’s smiling after Mississippi’s GOP runoff? Democrat Jim Hood

Mississippi Republicans nominated their weaker candidate for governor in Tuesday’s runoff primary between Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr.

In doing so GOP voters handed Democratic nominee Jim Hood a solid chance of winning control of the governor’s mansion in the November election. Hood, the state’s four-term attorney general, sailed to victory with 69% of the vote in his party’s Aug. 6 primary against a half-dozen opponents.

Reeves outpolled Waller by 8 percentage points, continuing the decline from the 16-point edge he had in the first round of voting and the 53-point lead he enjoyed at the start of the year against his earliest rival for the nomination, state Sen. Robert Foster.

With support from Gov. Phil Bryant and former governor Haley Barbour, as well as prominent conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Reeves should have been a shoo-in.

He wasn’t, even though he raised and spent far more than any candidate in Mississippi history, outpacing Waller by $6.2 million to $1.4 million as of Aug. 17, the most recent reporting date. In their one debate, Reeves strongly attacked Waller, which will make the challenge of winning over at least some of his defeated rival’s supporters harder.

Also hurting Reeves’s chances in November is that in the Aug. 6 primary, 72% of the 664,152 voters who turned out supported a candidate who pledged to expand the state’s Medicaid coverage and raise the gasoline tax to fund road and bridge improvements. That included Hood as well as Waller and Foster, who finished third in the primary.

The only candidate on the ballot who has opposed Medicaid expansion and a gas tax is Reeves.

Reeves was a remarkably early bloomer in Mississippi politics. He was elected state treasurer in 2003, the same year Hood was first elected as attorney general. The difference: Reeves was 29, younger than any other state treasurer in the country.  In 2011 he won the first of two terms as lieutenant governor.

Familiarity has bred respect but not affection for Reeves among Mississippi voters. He is seldom described as likeable. That may be him or it may just be that as lieutenant governor for eight years he’s had to say no to a lot of people. No two-term lieutenant governor has ever been elected governor.

Hood is likeable to a fault, but that’s not his only strength. His record of winning statewide elections makes him unique among Mississippi Democrats in this century.

In 2003 Hood won his first campaign for attorney general with 63% of the vote. He won a second term in 2007 with 60%, a third term in 2011 with 61%, and a fourth term in 2015 with 56%. He has a united party behind him this fall.

Because Hood won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination with no runoff three weeks ago, he has been able to run against the Republicans while the Republicans were still running against each other. And because he has a real shot at winning in November, he will have no trouble raising all the money he needs to wage an all-out campaign.

Hood is a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-capital-punishment social conservative as well as an economic liberal who supports Medicaid expansion, tuition-free community college, a reduction in the sales tax on groceries, and increased spending on education and infrastructure. His claim to fame as attorney general is the lawsuits he filed against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina and pharmaceutical companies over unfair pricing.

Hood, like the Democratic Senate nominee in Tennessee last year, Phil Bredesen, is the most electable Democrat in his state. But, like Tennessee, Mississippi is solidly Republican, which makes victory an uphill climb for any Democrat.

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Democrats have recently won some surprising statewide races in the Deep South. John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana in 2015 and is a solid favorite to win a second term this November. In 2018 Democratic nominee Doug Jones won a special U.S. Senate election in Alabama and has a reasonable chance at reelection next year. Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams came within 2 points of being the first African American woman ever elected as governor of a southern state last year.

But even so, a Democratic governor in … Mississippi?

On the one hand, it’s hard to overstate how Democratic Mississippi used to be. In 1928, one year after Republican Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover steered Mississippi through the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1927, the state’s voters gave 87% of their support to Hoover’s Democratic opponent, Gov. Al Smith of New York. As recently as 1956, the wildly popular President Dwight D. Eisenhower won only 24% of the vote in his bid for a second term.

Then came the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson championed and his Republican opponent in that year’s election, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, opposed.

Nationally Johnson won 61% of the popular vote. In Mississippi he got 13%.

Even as Mississippi swung to the GOP in presidential elections, however, it continued to send Democrats to the Senate until 1978, when Republican Thad Cochran was elected. Since then Republicans have won every single U.S. Senate election.

Democrats — including Waller’s father in the early 1970s — retained the governorship until 1991 when Kirk Fordice became the first of three Republicans to win two terms. The one Democrat to interrupt this pattern, Ronnie Musgrove, was also the state’s only 21st century governor not to be reelected.

Republicans then begin chipping away at the other statewide elected offices, eventually capturing all eight of them except attorney general. The state legislature turned Republican in 2011 and has remained so ever since.

Republicans now dominate the state senate by 32 to 20 and the state House of Representatives by 74 to 48. No one expects these numbers to change much in November.

And yet. In the face of these powerful countertrends, Hood has won four statewide elections in a row, never by a margin of less than 10 points.

What’s more, last November former congressman Mike Espy came within 8 points of winning a U.S. Senate election against Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith. Espy came that close by earning more than 90% of the black vote — over one-third of the electorate — and about 15% of whites.

Hood’s challenge will be to hang on to Espy’s base among African Americans and expand it among moderately conservative white voters.

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