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Decision 2019: All eyes on GOP race for governor in Mississippi primary

Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves leads Republican field; Attorney General Jim Hood expected to win Democratic nod

JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Voters in Mississippi head to the polls Tuesday to decide statewide races up for grabs in off-year party primaries.

With incumbent Republican Governor Phil Bryant term limited, a field of three Republicans and eight Democrats are vying to replace him. Also on the ballot are competitive primaries for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer, as well as state legislative seats.

Polls close at 7 p.m. CT.

The race that has drawn the most attention is the Republican primary for governor, where polls have shown Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves holding a commanding lead, though likely not enough to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher. The two candidates competing for the other runoff slot are former Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. and State Rep. Robert Foster from DeSoto County.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Jim Hood — the only Democrat holding statewide office in the Magnolia State — is expected to win his primary over seven challengers in his quest to become the first Democrat in 20 years to win the state’s top job.

Reeves, 45, has served two terms as lieutenant governor after two terms as state treasurer, an office he first won when he was just 29 years old.

Waller, 67, served 21 years on the state’s high court — an elected but non-partisan position — before resigning to run for governor. He is trying to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Bill Waller Sr., who served as governor as a Democrat from 1972 to 1976.

Foster, 36, was elected to the House in 2015. During the campaign, he drew national media attention after refusing to let a female reporter for the website Mississippi Today accompany him on the campaign trail because of a rule he has of not being alone with any woman other than his wife.

Foster defended the practice, followed by the late evangelist Billy Graham and Vice President Mike Pence, and used the controversy to raise money after he was criticized for it in national media outlets.

Hood, 57, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted with his fellow Democrats by taking more conservative positions on criminal justice and legal abortion, which he opposes. He has also made expanding Medicaid in Mississippi — long blocked by Republicans in Jackson — a centerpiece of his campaign.

If no one wins a majority in Tuesday’s first round of voting, a runoff will be held in three weeks on August 27.

Of the eight elected statewide executive posts, five are open in 2019. Tate and Hood’s campaigns for governor opened up their positions as lieutenant governor and attorney general; Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann gave up his post to run for lieutenant governor; and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch left hers to run for attorney general.

Republicans have competitive primaries for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer. Democrats’ only competitive primary is for secretary of state.

Among the lower-tier races, the one that has gotten the most attention is the Republican race for attorney general, pitting Fitch against State Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon and Andy Taggart, a former Madison County supervisor who has served as an advisor to several Republican governors.

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