By Jim EllisAug. 8, 2019 — Voters in the Magnolia State of Mississippi went to the polls to choose open race nominees for the first time in eight years on Tuesday. Incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is term-limited and ineligible to seek re-election in 2019.
As expected, Attorney General Jim Hood easily dispatched seven Democratic opponents and captured the party nomination outright with a 69 percent statewide win. Hood, often called “the most successful Democratic politician in the South” because of winning four consecutive statewide elections as Mississippi’s AG, scored majority support in all but six of the 80 reporting counties. At this writing, two counties still had not released their vote counts.
The Republican side is headed for an Aug. 27 run-off, as Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who earned Gov. Bryant’s backing for this election campaign, looks to be falling just a point short of securing the nomination. Of the estimated outstanding votes, Reeves would have to garner about 81 percent in order to win outright. Since his strongest county, tiny Coahoma, gave him 67.5 percent of the vote but from a total universe of only 120 voters, it indicates that attracting 81 percent of the outstanding ballots is not mathematically feasible.
Therefore, Reeves advances into the secondary election against former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr., who placed second with 33 percent of the vote compared to Reeves’ 49 percent. The third candidate in the race, state Rep. Robert Foster (R-Hernando), captured 18 percent and won two counties. Judge Waller finished first in seven counties.
Obviously, Reeves’ dominant showing in carrying 71 counties, which was almost enough for him to claim the nomination, now makes him a heavy favorite for the run-off. It will be interesting to see if Judge Waller comes under pressure not to force the secondary vote and an award the nomination to Reeves in order to unify the party and better prepare for the campaign to oppose Hood.
Turnout proved high in comparison with other races of note, at least for Republicans. The still growing turnout figure of 366,477 Republican voters tops the last open gubernatorial race back in 2011 when just under 290,000 individuals voted in that particular Republican primary. The Democrats’ 276,664 voter turnout figure increases the total participation figure in yesterday’s vote to 643,141 individuals with the two counties still outstanding.
The Democrats’ turnout rate, however, was far below 2011. Eight years ago, 412,530 people voted in the Democratic primary, substantially more than in last night’s open race. Even the 2015 nomination campaign to challenge Gov. Bryant yielded more voters. In that year, over 288,000 voted in the Democratic primary. The lower participation rate is at least partially attributed to Hood being an overwhelming favorite against the seven minor candidates.
After the late August run-off, the candidates will head toward the Nov. 5 general election. At this point, with Lt. Gov. Reeves not showing much weakness in the primary and presumably in position to record a strong run-off victory, he’ll be rated the favorite to defeat Hood in the general election and retain the seat for the GOP.