Sunday, November 03, 2019

Mississippi Governor Election

Status: Republican Open

2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

As one of five states to pick Governors in odd year elections, Mississippi has not gotten much attention in recent years, as Republicans have dominated the state. While the GOP is easily expected to win the other statewide races this year as well, the one for Governor is believed to be closer than it has been for a long time. Still, it would be pretty surprising if Democrats can pull off the upset and win for the first time in 20 years.

In what is news to most people outside of the state, including myself, the Magnolia State actually has a bit of an Electoral College system in effect for Governor. It has been the case that a candidate must win a majority of the popular vote as well as a majority of the state House districts. Apparently, this has not been an issue, but if it does not happen, then the contest goes to the State House to pick a winner. Putting aside the requirement to win the House districts as well, this system is very similar to Vermont. In Mississippi though, Republicans easily hold the State House majority. Democrats have challenged this requirement, saying it is unfair to potential black candidates, however the real reason to oppose it seems more obvious. The past few days have seen more discussion about this quirk in state law than ever before. A federal judge ruled recently that the law cannot be blocked. Thus, in a competitive election, it appears that a Republican can win even if they finish with the second most votes and the Democrat wins a plurality. The last time a Democrat won, as mentioned, was in 1999, when their candidate won a plurality but not a majority of the vote. However, the State House then was controlled by Democrats who chose the first place winner. This year, there will be much controversy if a Republican majority chooses the second place finisher if it comes to that.

After serving eight years, Republican incumbent Phil Bryant is term limited. Many in Washington D.C. had wanted him to resign as Governor in 2018, as a lame duck to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Instead, Bryant picked another candidate, who had some difficulty in holding the seat, though she ultimately did so. Before that though, many thought he would have to choose between Republican Lt. Governor Tate Reeves and Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Both men also said they had no desire to go to Washington and were believed to be focused on the 2019 race for Governor. Of course had Bryant resigned, Reeves would have automatically become Governor. It looked like it was headed for a showdown between these two top GOPers in waiting, but Hosemann instead decided to run for Lt. Governor (which is elected separately) leaving Reeves with a seemingly clear path to the nomination.

However, that would not be the case as Reeves saw credible challengers in the March primary and was held to 49 percent of the vote, meaning he had to win a runoff three weeks later. The third place finisher, State Representative Robert Foster received 17 percent and then threw his support behind runner-up Bill Waller Jr., a former State Supreme Court Chief Justice, whose father had served as Mississippi's Democrat Governor for a part of the 1970s. Thirty three percent of GOP primary voters had voted for Waller in the first round, many believing he was the most electable. Still, Reeves had most of the establishment behind him and had come close to avoiding the runoff in the first place. In the second round of voting, he beat Waller by 8 percent. As is the case this year in Kentucky, divisions have remained in the GOP post primary as Waller has refused to endorse Reeves.

In spite of all this drama among Republicans, in most cycles it would not matter as Democrats on the statewide level have been decimated over the past couple decades in a state they had dominated. Now, the party is made up mostly of African-American voters who are not typically competitive statewide. There has been one Democrat in Mississippi though, a white man, who has been able to consistently win statewide since 2003 and who has been talked about as a hopeful for Governor or U.S. Senate for years now. This year, Attorney General Jim Hood decided the timing was right to run for Governor and easily won the primary with 69 percent of the vote. A handful of mostly black opponents took the remainder of the primary vote with the second place finisher, at 11 percent, being someone named Michael Brown who did not mount an active campaign.

Without a doubt, Hood is the best potential Democrat to win statewide in Mississippi while Reeves has demonstrated that he is not been able to fully unite his party behind him. The Democrat nominee is trying to push his moderate credentials and running as a supporter of gun rights and against abortion, similar to the path that elected a Democrat in Louisiana four years and which may reelect him this year. Clearly, there are not any current Democrat Presidential contenders that can claim to have much in common with Hood. In this general election, neither nominee exactly cuts a physical image of a politician from central casting.

Reeves is being propped up by support from Donald Trump, which is a big deal in Mississippi. As is the case in Kentucky, the nationalizing of the election and discussion of impeachment probably serves to drive a higher conservative turnout. Independent polls of late have shown Reeves ahead of Hood but potentially by a very small margin. A wildcard in this race, at least in terms of getting a majority of the vote for Reeves, may be the presence of the Constitution Party nominee, which is considered a right-wing party (and after all many on the right have had various problems with Reeves), but that candidate is also African-American, unlike the official Democrat nominee.

I think this race will be slightly more favorable to Republicans than the one in Kentucky due to national factors. Donald Trump held a rally in the state on Friday evening and that could prove beneficial. It is hard for Hood to attack Trump without running the risk of losing some of the support he will need to win himself. He has tried to walk a tight rope and remain neutral on the impeachment question.

A Hood victory will generate headlines across the country (as would a win in for the Democrat in Kentucky) though the concept of Hood being Pro-Life and anti-gun control might be hard for national Democrats to ignore. However, I think Reeves is probably going to win a narrow victory to keep the Governorship in Republican hands. If something happens though where Hood gets more votes but falls short of the two steps needed for outright victory, there will be a bit of a political firestorm about what will happen next.


At 3:07 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Corey: Reeves won by 6 percentage points.


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