First a correction. Last week I wrote there are 13 candidates for governor; instead there are 14. I left out Constitution Party candidate Bob Hickingbottom. My apologies.
The Associated Press labeled most of these as “lesser known candidates.” While it is unlikely a lesser known candidate will win a party nomination, this is Mississippi where lesser knowns surprise us.
Remember Thomas Carey?
Carey was the Hernando retired realtor and volunteer prison minister at Parchman who put his name on the 2014 primary ballot as a Republican candidate for U.S. Senator. This lesser known candidate got only 4,854 votes out of 319,000, but his presence forced a runoff between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel, to McDaniel’s dismay.
Could that happen again? Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is the favorite, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr., is the challenger, and Hernando state Rep. Robert Foster is the lesser known candidate.
As exhibited in the first Republican primary debate last week (skipped by Reeves), Foster is an attractive and articulate conservative candidate. He will likely win a lot more votes than Carey did, especially in his home DeSoto County, one of highest turnout counties for Republicans.
If Waller, who had an excellent debate, mounts a tight challenge to Reeves, Foster could force a runoff.
Then there is the Democratic primary. Attorney General Jim Hood is the favorite and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith is the key challenger with seven other lesser knowns on the ballot.
Remember Robert Gray?
He was the unknown African-American truck driver from Terry who came out of nowhere to upset favorite Vicki Slater, a white lawyer from Madison, for the Democratic nomination for governor four years ago. Smith and most of the Democratic candidates this year are African-American, while Hood is a white lawyer.
Could history replay itself? If black voter turnout is high and white turnout low, Hood could face a runoff or worse.
Still and all, the lesser known candidates are unlikely to up-end Reeves, Waller, and Hood.
As for them, all three have plans to save us. Reeves wants to save us from taxes and Washington liberalism. Hood wants to save us politically and spiritually. Waller wants to save us from irresponsible government.
At this point in the campaign, it’s easy to envision Reeves as a tweetless mini-Trump with a dash of Betsy DeVos which appeals to many Republicans, Hood as a toned-down Billy Graham proselytizing us on family friendly issues, and Waller as a laidback, conservative William Winter running an issues based, responsible government campaign.
How will this play out? Let’s assume there are no lesser known candidate surprises.
To win, Waller, a Baptist deacon, must activate statewide the same sort of grassroots coalitions that carried Baptist deacons Gregg Harper and Michael Guest to victory in their congressional races. Hood must grab a large share of white Christian conservatives and turn out a huge black vote in November. If neither happens, Reeves’ deep pockets and tax-cut agenda should carry him to victory. A Waller upset of Reeves would greatly dim Hood’s prospects.
The wild cards for November are President Trump showing up to meddle in the campaign and the level of black voter turnout.
But this is Mississippi, so who knows what will really happen.
» BILL CRAWFORD is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.
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