Mississippi’s Dead Heat

By Jim Ellis

Mississippi state flag

Feb. 7, 2019 — The open Mississippi governor’s race will be decided later this year, and a new Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey (Jan. 30-Feb. 1; 625 registered Mississippi voters) finds Attorney General Jim Hood (D) and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) locked in a virtual tie. The Republican incumbent, Gov. Phil Bryant, is ineligible to seek a third term.

While Hood, a four-term AG, holds a slight 44-42 percent edge, Reeves has closed the original six-point spread that Mason-Dixon first found in their December 2017 poll (Hood 43 percent; Reeves 37 percent). In April of last year, M-D projected Hood’s advantage to be 44-39 percent.

But, winning the popular vote is not all that’s required to win a Mississippi statewide race. In similar fashion to a presidential candidate needing to score a victory in the Electoral College, a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate must not only record the most votes in the statewide aggregate count, he or she must also win a majority of the 122 state House districts.

Currently, Republicans hold a 72-46 split in the state House with four vacancies. Thus, it would appear Reeves would have a strong opportunity to capture at least a bare majority 63 House districts, assuming the statewide count is close. If no candidate carries a majority of state House districts, the state House members would then vote to decide the election between the top two finishers.

Though Reeves has gained somewhat over the last year, he still is showing weakness in certain sectors. While Hood scores a Democratic support ratio of 87-6 percent, Reeves posts a lesser 73-12 percent mark among Republicans. And, in a division that must change if Reeves is to win the election later this year, Hood posts a clear 44-31 percent margin within the important Independent voter segment.

Another factor in this election could be the presence of an Independent candidate, retired state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. At this point, even if Waller were to enter the race, his presence would not have a demonstrable effect. While Hood would lead Reeves 44-42 percent in a two-way race, Waller’s addition into the candidate field doesn’t change the two-point gap between the leading candidates. The three-way campaign would yield a 40-38-9 percent Hood lead, followed by Reeves and Waller.

Geographically, Hood does the best in the state’s Delta area where he tops Reeves, 65-20 percent. He also leads in the Jackson metropolitan area, 48-39 percent. Reeves forges ahead in the Gulf Coast (51-36 percent), Southern Mississippi (44-38 percent), Northern Mississippi (47-40 percent), and Eastern Mississippi (46-41 percent).

As a four-term attorney general, Jim Hood is one of the most successful Democrats throughout the entire Deep South, a political region dominated by Republicans. His electoral track record suggests that he will be a highly competitive candidate but will still need some breaks to win. The Mississippi system that requires carrying a majority of the state House districts is an obstacle for Hood to overcome and adds a much different element to this particular gubernatorial campaign.

In addition to Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky are also holding governor’s races this year. All are expected to be close, with Republicans defending Mississippi and Kentucky and Democrats working to hold Louisiana.

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