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ICYMI: Waller Listened To Mississippians On The Trail, Ramps Up Attacks on Reeves
In case you missed it, Mississippi Today profiled Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Waller, who changed his campaign strategy to directly go after Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves after listening to Misssissippians on the campaign trail.
This was supposed to be an easy primary for Reeves. But he’s had to spend money on TV, navigate a base who isn’t enthused about him running and face questions about why taxpayers funded a $2 million road to his gated community. And now he’s facing an increasingly nasty party primary.
Read more about the gloves coming off in the Mississippi Republican primary below:
Mississippi Today: Bill Waller Jr., emboldened by critiques of Tate Reeves, sharpens focus on GOP frontrunner
You wouldn’t have known it was 5:30 a.m. by Bill Waller Jr.’s swagger as he walked into a Hattiesburg Hardee’s for his first campaign stop in a recent 17-hour campaign day.
Waller, who retired in January after 21 years on the Mississippi Supreme Court, entered the restaurant with the confidence of a retired underdog with little to lose. This whole campaign for him is about giving Mississippians another option, about offering what he says are pragmatic solutions that may not be popular but are necessary for the future of the state.
By the time the biscuit found its way to his seat, Waller had already fielded two criticisms about one of his Republican primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
“I’m supporting Bill Waller because he has a vision for a better Mississippi,” Willis Lott, former president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, told a reporter as the breakfast group listened. “Tate Reeves, in his years as lieutenant governor, has not shown that he has a vision. Plus he’s arrogant, and a lot of people know it.”
As about 30 more men and women trickled in over the next hour to greet Waller at the Hardee’s, more criticisms of Reeves were leveled, unprompted. By the end of the day, Waller heard more than two dozen people talk negatively about his opponent in some regard.
That sentiment, Waller says, inspired him to rethink his campaign strategy.
“I’ve traveled a lot and have met more people than I can count, and there’s one thing that I haven’t heard much at all: ‘I’m voting for Tate because I think he’s the best candidate,’” Waller told Mississippi Today. “If there was a 1,000 people I talk to, there would be two or three of those. That’s it.”
Emboldened by scores of voters who daily express their dislike of Reeves, Waller is no longer focusing solely on offering his own policy solutions for the state’s problems. He’s increasingly pointing his finger at Reeves, who continues amplifying what Waller calls “failed policies” that fostered those very problems.
A Baptist deacon who blesses every meal and begins campaign meetings in prayer, Waller has been apprehensive about disparaging his opponents, spending weeks repeating the refrain: “I won’t go negative.” But in the last week or so, noted in extensive recent interviews with Mississippi Today and remarks later at a Mississippi Press Association event, his hesitation about knocking Reeves is subsiding.
Speaking about the lottery to a group of reporters, editors and publishers at the Mississippi Press Association annual conference, Waller made light of the controversy surrounding of a now-shelved $2 million, state-funded road from the gated neighborhood where Reeves lives to easier highway access.
“(The lottery) is not a dependable (revenue) source. There’s not enough money to do anything,” Waller said. “Tate can’t build his driveway with that.”
“I wish people all said, ‘I’ve read up on you and I think you’re the best candidate.’ They just don’t,” Waller said. “But a whole lot of them say, ‘I wouldn’t vote for Tate if he was the last person on the moon.’ There are a lot of people who say that.
“I think that in looking at the decision box, they’re looking at me as a good alternative to Tate. I’ll take it anywhere I can get it. It’s out there. It’s amazing. I don’t want to focus on it, and I’m not running on it, but I could have a pretty good book of first-person stories of things that have happened to people.”
Waller’s earlier characterization of what he hears on the campaign trail about Reeves manifested itself in the presence of a reporter throughout the 17-hour day, always without prompt.
One woman outside the Covington County courthouse in Collins mentioned that she recognized Waller from a TV ad, and she urged him to put his best foot forward in defeating Reeves.
Harry Mauldin, owner of Main Street Barber Shop in downtown Collins, acknowledged the sentiment.
“I’m leaning toward Bill Waller because I’ve got a lot of friends who come in here and say that they are, too,” Mauldin said. “Tate may be a good man, but it seems like most everyone around here is supporting Waller.”
Several power brokers in the Pine Belt met with Waller on Tuesday and offered similar remarks.
“Tate has been in my home. I helped him on his first campaign,” said Ray “Two Bits” Crawford, a 79-year-old Republican and a political institution in Hattiesburg. “I know him, so I know better than anyone that Bill Waller would make a better governor.”
Waller also discussed what he calls a “quiet support” of his candidacy. He said he’s heard from dozens of people across the state who say they feel obligated to publicly support Reeves, but they won’t vote for him.
Waller continued: “Everybody’s got a different reason for doing whatever they’re going to do, but I would hope that they would vote their conscience and what’s really best for the state.”