And so it begins, the anomaly versus the tsunami, the hope versus the expectation, the last Democrat versus the next-in-line Republican.
Mississippi’s only Democrat holding statewide office, Attorney General Jim Hood, has officially announced his candidacy for Governor. His all-but-announced governor-in-waiting opponent will be Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
The night before Hood announced, Reeves was on stage in Southaven pumping up the crowd in advance of President Donald Trump’s highly partisan bashing of national Democrats. “They think they have a chance here,” said Reeves, as reported by the Associated Press. “They got ’em a Democrat governor in Louisiana, they got ’em a Democrat senator in Alabama and they don’t believe that there’s a difference between Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama…. Let us send this message to the liberals all over the country: Not in our state.”
“It’s time for Mississippi to pull together,” Hood said the next morning as reported by Mississippi Today. “It’s time for this partisan, petty politics to stop.”
These two episodes well describe how this epic battle will be fought.
Reeves will ride the tsunami of highly partisan, conservative politics now headlined by Trump that swept Republicans into control of Mississippi state government over the past 15 years. Hood will stand as the Democratic anomaly, a pro-life, pro-second amendment, Christian candidate who has withstood the GOP surge since it started.
Indeed, Hood is the only statewide Democratic candidate since 2007 who has attracted votes in Republican strongholds. Against a strong Republican candidate, Mike Hurst, in 2015, Hood carried 32 counties that Reeves won against Democrat Tim Johnson. He also carried 33 counties that Trump won the next year. In that 2015 election, Hood won with 55% of the vote, Reeves with 60%. In 2016 Trump won with 58%.
Among the typically GOP counties Hood carried were Alcorn, Forrest, Lauderdale, Lowndes, Pontotoc, Simpson, Union, and Warren. In the bastions of Republicanism – Rankin, DeSoto, Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties – Hood scored 50% to 100% better than other Democrats except in DeSoto.
It is this ability Hood has to appeal to voters who tend to go with Republicans that give Democrats hope. “Hood is the only active state Democratic politician with the name recognition, fundraising abilities and favorability to make a serious challenge to Reeves,” wrote columnist Geoff Pender a year ago.
Of course, it’s one thing to hold on to a post as the incumbent, it’s quite another to win an open seat for governor. In such situations money tends to talk. The Associated Press reported Reeves has well over $5 million on hand compared to Hood’s $750,000.
Then, favorable ratings with the voters matter too. A recent Chism/Millsaps poll shows Hood with a higher approval rating than Gov. Phil Bryant, 52% compared to 50%. Reeves came in at 37%. (See the Jackson Jambalaya blog for more details).
Some think the Hyde-Smith/McDaniel/Espy brawl that climaxes in November will be a barometer for next year. The thinking goes a narrow Republican win or loss would hold out hope for Hood, while a GOP landslide would suggest Reeves will win as expected.
The dinger to that is Hood’s history of winning over usually Republican voters. He’ll have to do that to knockout Reeves.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicate columnist from Meridian.
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