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Analysis: Reeves, Hood focus beyond Mississippi primaries

EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

The two candidates with the most money in the Mississippi governor’s race — Republican Tate Reeves and Democrat Jim Hood — are largely ignoring their party primary opponents and are concentrating, instead, on the November general election.

That’s changing soon for Reeves. He’s scheduled to take part in a televised debate Tuesday with the other two Republicans who will be on the Aug. 6 primary ballot, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster.

Hood is one of eight candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, and he’s not debating the other seven.

Reeves and Hood are the only gubernatorial candidates who have previously won statewide elections, which gave them the advantage of name recognition as they entered the race.

Hood is completing his fourth term as attorney general, and Reeves is completing his second term as lieutenant governor after serving two terms as state treasurer.

Hood went on TV last week with his first campaign ad of the season — a 30-second spot that shows him driving a tractor, holding ammunition, chatting with diverse groups of people. He talks about cracking down on child pornographers and going to church with his family. The ad also shows Hood getting out of a pickup truck. With a dog walking beside him as they pass a shiny golden cross in the yard, Hood says: “Thank God for family and the chance to help others.”

Reeves has been airing ads for several weeks. One shows him at campaign events saying Mississippi must continue to cut regulations and taxes, train workers and “keep reforming our schools.” That’s followed by clips of Reeves saying: “Jim Hood won’t. But I will.” In another ad, Reeves says “out of state liberals” hate Mississippi’s new license plate because it includes the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Another ad features his wife, Elee, who describes him as being “strong” and having “a soft heart for Mississippi.”

Waller wants to force Reeves into an Aug. 27 runoff, and a campaign slogan calls Waller “The conservative Republican who can win in November.” This is a not-so-subtle reference to the likeability factor. Reeves has made political enemies as lieutenant governor, as have many people who’ve served in that job.

Waller is trying to appeal to voters who generally consider themselves moderate or conservative — those who vote sometimes for Republicans and sometimes for Democrats and might choose Hood if the general election is a matchup between Hood and Reeves.

Waller, though, might have weakened his appeal to such voters by saying that he, like Foster, follows the “Billy Graham rule,” that he won’t be alone with a woman other than his own wife, even in a professional setting.

Foster received national attention after saying a woman journalist could not ride with him in his truck to cover his campaign unless she brought a male colleague as a chaperone. He has gained thousands of Twitter followers since then, receiving both criticism and praise. Foster is now selling $5 bumper stickers with the slogan: “My Truck. My Rules.”

For the first six months of this year, Reeves raised $3.7 million and Hood raised $1.3 million. Reeves had $5.8 million cash on hand at the end of June, and Hood had $1.5 million.

Reeves’ fundraising far exceeded that of the other Republicans. From January through June, Waller collected $983,760 and Foster collected $130,125.

The two Democrats who came closest to Hood in fundraising really didn’t come close at all. Velesha P. Williams, a retired Jackson State University administrator, collected $23,664 from January through June, and Robert Shuler Smith, the current Hinds County district attorney, collected $17,946.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant couldn’t seek a third term, and he’s backing Reeves.

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

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