Bobby Morgan, a spokesperson for Gov. Phil Bryant, said the governor will not endorse a candidate in the Republican primary for attorney general.
Morgan said the “governor will endorse after the primary” where Treasurer Lynn Fitch, state Rep. Mark Baker and former Madison County supervisor Andy Taggart are vying to win the nomination and be on the November ballot to replace outgoing Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.
It is notable that Bryant is not picking sides in what could be a hotly contested Republican primary for attorney general because that is not the case in other contested primary elections.
Bryant has endorsed for governor, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves over former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster; for secretary of state, state Sen. Michael Watson over Southern District Public Service Commissioner Sam Britton; and for treasurer, attorney David McRae over state Sen. Buck Clarke.
But Bryant is not endorsing for AG – the only statewide office his Republican Party has not held since the 1800s.
Bryant and Reeves have not always seen eye to eye during the eight years they served as governor and lieutenant governor. But it is not surprising that the governor is endorsing the lieutenant governor. Reeves has for a long time been considered the favorite to win the Republican nomination for governor. For an outgoing governor who might want to remain involved in terms of setting public policy after leaving elected office, it makes sense for Bryant to endorse Reeves.
It is of interest, though, that Josh Gregory, Bryant’s longtime political consultant, is working on the Waller campaign, a late entry into the governor’s election this year.
And it also is of interest that Gregory is working on the Watson campaign for secretary of state. Bryant, of course, has strongly endorsed Watson.
On social media, Bryant said of Watson, “I look forward to supporting his campaign in any way I can.”
Watson served in the Senate where Bryant presided during his one term as lieutenant governor. They were close then.
It could be argued the Bryant endorsement of Watson might heal the divisions caused in the Republican Party during the 2014 primary for U.S. Senate. In that divisive primary, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a tea party favorite, who was opposed by the entire state party establishment, including Bryant, came close to defeating long-term incumbent Thad Cochran.
Then in 2018, Bryant’s conflict with McDaniel was intensified when McDaniel ran against Cindy Hyde-Smith in a November special election to replace Cochran, who retired for health reasons. Hyde-Smith had been appointed to the post by Bryant.
McDaniel and Watson have been longtime best friends in the state Senate.
Perhaps the most surprising of Bryant’s endorsements was of McRae, who is a member of the family that owned the McRae Department Stores chain. McRae’s opponent in the Republican primary, Clarke, served in the state Senate during Bryant’s term as lieutenant governor.
A matter of fact, Bryant’s leadership team in 2011 was the first during redistricting to extend Clarke’s Senate District 22, centered in the Democratic-based Delta, into Republican-voter heavy Madison County to help Clarke’s re-election efforts.
Because of conflicts with the House in 2011, the redistricting plan, including Clarke’s gerrymandered District 22, was not passed. But in 2012, under the beginning of Reeves’ tenure as lieutenant governor, the plan, essentially as the Senate drew it up under Bryant to help Clarke, was passed.
To add more fuel to the fire, Bryant’s predecessor as governor, Haley Barbour, has endorsed Clarke.
In the letter, Barbour said, “Buck is running a grass roots campaign to serve as our state treasurer. Buck’s opponent has a great deal of family money and is advertising heavily in an effort to win political office. Buck will not be able to match his opponent’s paid advertising, but he can win if the citizens’ voices prevail over all the paid political advertising.”
In endorsing McRae on social media, Bryant said, “He and his family have been longtime friends and supporters. Glad I could return the favor.”
When Barbour served as governor and Bryant as lieutenant governor, the belief was that Barbour, a master strategist, had more sway with the Senate than did Bryant who presided over the Senate.
It will be interesting to see who has the most sway now.
This column was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture.
BOBBY HARRISON is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.