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Analysis: 1 woman’s prayer could shape Mississippi politics

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

Amid the red dirt and hubbub of the Neshoba County Fair last week, Debbie Hood sat on a wooden bench and quietly contemplated a reporter’s question: Is she ready for her husband to run for Mississippi governor next year?

She is the wife of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who’s in his fourth term as the state’s top legal officer. While her husband is a longtime prosecutor who’s comfortable in front of big crowds, Debbie Hood is an intensely private person.

Jim Hood has been sounding like a potential gubernatorial candidate for a long time, but like many politicians, he is skilled at evading direct questions about his plans. His standard reply is to say his wife is praying about whether he should run for governor and he’s waiting for her to get comfortable with the idea. The answer appears to have the benefit of being true, but it also fuels speculation that keeps his name on people’s minds and extends the drama leading up to an announcement.

So, while Jim Hood was shaking hands outside the shotgun-style cabins on the fairgrounds Wednesday, an Associated Press reporter sat with Debbie Hood and asked if she is still praying.

She said she is.

“That’s where I am: If it’s the Lord’s will,” she said, choosing her words in the careful manner of someone unaccustomed to being interviewed.

Debbie Hood did not seek out the conversation, and she thought for a few seconds when asked if she consented to having her responses in print. She said it was fine.

Debbie Hood said she frequently turns to Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

She said the decision is not just about Jim Hood, or her or their family, but about the state as a whole.

Jim Hood was a district attorney 16 years ago when he learned that his friend and mentor, Democrat Mike Moore, would not seek a fifth term as attorney general the following year. Then, as now, Debbie Hood said she was hesitant about the stress of her husband running a statewide campaign, but said she prayed about it and concluded he would be able to help people by serving in higher office.

She said part of her hesitation back then was that they had two young children and she was pregnant with their third. Their older daughter and son are now young adults, and the third child, a girl, is starting her sophomore year of high school.

The Hoods lived in a Jackson suburb for several years after he was first elected attorney general. They moved back up to a family farm in Chickasaw County in the middle of 2013, just as their son was starting 10th grade.

If Jim Hood runs for governor — and he’s very likely to — he would start as the presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination. The presumed front-runner for the Republican nomination is Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who starts with a huge financial advantage.

The latest campaign finance reports show that through the end of 2017, Reeveshad nearly $5.4 million cash on hand and Hood had only $656,394.

Hood is the only Democrat still holding statewide office in Mississippi, and Republicans have held the Governor’s Mansion for six of the past seven terms.

Reeves and Hood both spoke at the Neshoba County Fair, previewing a governor’s race that would be the most confrontational since 2003, when a well-funded Republican, Haley Barbour, unseated Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and solidified the GOP hold on most state offices.

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Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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