With the 2020 Democratic presidential primary underway, it’s easy to overlook elections happening in 2019. There are also not that many statewide elections this year, but one to keep your eye on is the gubernatorial race in Mississippi, which holds its primary today. Although the state is firmly Republican, Democrats could still have an outside shot of winning on Nov. 5. At the very least, uncertainty on the Republican side could muddy the Mississippi waters with a runoff election later this month.
The main event today is the Republican primary, and the front-runner’s prospects are less certain than they once were. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves started out as the heir apparent to outgoing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant; he has raised far more money than his primary opponents while also picking up endorsements from major conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity. But his approach as lieutenant governor has rubbed some Republicans the wrong way, leaving the door open for two primary opponents: former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr., whose father was governor in the 1970s, and state Rep. Robert Foster, who made national headlines for refusing to allow a female reporter shadow his campaign, as no other man would be present. (Waller has also said he won’t meet with women by himself.)
And although Reeves has continued to lead in the limited number of primary polls out there, the most recent one should worry him: In late July, Mason-Dixon found Reeves ahead of Waller by just 10 percentage points, 41 percent to 31 percent (with Foster at 13 percent). As a result, it’s now unclearwhether Reeves can win a majority of the vote to avoid an Aug. 27 primary runoff, and some insiders speculate that Reeves could actually lose in a runoff due to an “Anyone but Tate” sentiment.
Meanwhile, the likely Democratic nominee has actually won statewide in Mississippi four times already: Attorney General Jim Hood first won office in 2003 and has been reelected three times since, winning every race by a double-digit margin. Hood does have one notable primary opponent — Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith — but Smith has raised barely any money, although as a black candidate, he could perhaps win over the support of African Americans, who largely vote Democratic. And the one poll testing Hood against Smith way back in January 2018 did find them nearly tied. That said, Hood already has his eyes set on the general election — his first ad seems geared toward winning over conservative voters with talk about taking care of the land, reloading ammunition and going to church. Winning those voters will be important, too, if Hood stands a chance of winning in November.
And that’s because despite Hood’s winning track record as a Democrat in Mississippi, he still faces an uphill climb in the general election…..