Reeves’s commanding margin in Republican race not enough to avoid runoff
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves will face former Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. in an August 27 runoff for the Republican nomination for governor, with the winner taking on Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood in November.
Reeves took 49 percent in Tuesday’s GOP primary, just short of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Waller came in second place at 33 percent.
State Rep. Robert Foster from DeSoto County, who received national press attention during the campaign after refusing to travel alone with a female reporter, finished third with 18 percent.
Hood, as expected, won his primary over seven lesser-known challengers, taking 69 percent of the vote and setting up what is likely to be the Magnolia State’s most competitive governor’s race in two decades to replace incumbent Republican Governor Phil Bryant, who is term limited.
In down ballot statewide races, Republicans settled on nominees for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and state treasurer, but the GOP race for the open attorney generalship is also headed to a runoff.
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. In the runoff, he will face Waller, 67, who served 21 years on the state’s high court — an elected but non-partisan position — before resigning to run for governor.
Waller 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.
During the campaign, Foster 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 and appeal to religious conservative voters after he was criticized for it in national media outlets. But in the end, he carried only his home county of DeSoto and Tate County to the south.
Waller won the counties in metro Jackson; Reeves carried most of the rest of the state, including Hattiesburg and the populous Gulf Coast counties.
Hood, 57, the only Democrat holding statewide office in Mississippi, has been attorney general since 2004. He has parted ways with national 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.
Mississippi has not elected a Democrat as governor since 1999.
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.
Hoseman who his primary with 86 percent of the vote. Fitch made the Republican runoff for attorney general, taking 44 percent; in the runoff, she will face Andy Taggart, a former Madison County supervisor who narrowly edged out State Rep. Mark Baker from Brandon for second place.
In the only other contested statewide Democratic primary race, former Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, the party’s nominee for governor in 2011, defeated Maryra Hunt to win the nomination for secretary of state. He will face Watson in November.
Mississippi is one of three Southern states holding off-year elections for governor and other state office in 2019, joining Kentucky and Louisiana.