The two favorites in this year’s election for governor, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood and Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, have each been elected to statewide office four times.
But Hood, a Chickasaw County native, has faced far more opposition – in terms of the electoral viability of his foes – than has Reeves, a Rankin County native.
If nothing else, Hood is battle-tested. That is not to say Reeves’ election conquests should be discounted. As a 29-year-old with no campaign experience, he came out of nowhere to win the office of treasurer in 2003 against more seasoned, but not widely known politicians. He captured the seat, in large part, by raising more money – a feat that to campaigning is what recruiting is to college football. Then in 2011, Reeves won a tough Republican primary on the way to be elected lieutenant governor. But in recent campaigns Reeves and other statewide Republicans have benefited from the lack of Democrats’ resources to wage competitive campaigns.
By contrast, though, in four campaigns for the post of attorney general, the state Republican establishment has thrown its heavy artillery into efforts to upend Hood, who has been left standing as Mississippi’s only statewide elected Democrat.
In each of his elections, Hood has faced candidates who were comparable to him in terms of the amount of money they had to fund a campaign. During the same time period, Republicans elected to statewide office, including Reeves, have faced Democratic opposition with far less cash to spend on their campaigns.
In his four previous campaigns for attorney general, Hood’s opponents spent $5.05 million while Hood spent a cumulative $6.75 million, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office. In addition, third party groups spent large sums of money against Hood in some of those elections.
By contrast, Reeves, spent $5 million in winning the offices of treasurer and of lieutenant governor – each two times.
Reeves’ opponents in those four campaigns spent $3 million. But that number is misleading since $2.3 million of that total was spent by one opponent – then-Senate Pro Tem Billy Hewes of Gulfport – in the Republican primary for the office of lieutenant governor in 2011.
Reeves’ general election opponents have spent about $550,000.
Despite the quality of Hoods’ opposition, at least in terms of fundraising, Hood won all four elections convincingly – with 62.7 percent of the vote in 2003, 59.8 percent in 2007, 61 percent in 2011 and 55.3 percent in 2015.
Hood’s performance in those previous four elections is why he is viewed as the first Democrat since 2003 to have a legitimate shot of winning the governor’s office assuming he emerges from a Democratic primary where he has far superior name identification and fundraising ability than the other six candidates.
Whether Hood’s electability prowess for attorney general translates to the election for governor remains to be seen. While he has faced well funded candidates in his AG campaigns, the race for governor most likely will mark the first time the Hood campaign will be outspent.
As of the May campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office, Reeves has $6.3 million in cash on hand compared to $1.2 million for Hood. And Reeves could conceivably double his fundraising before the November general election. And if one of the other Republican candidates – former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. of Jackson or state Rep. Robert Foster of DeSoto – emerges from the primary as many believe is possible, that candidate also likely would raise far more campaign cash than Hood in Republican-dominated Mississippi.
Hood, a former north Mississippi district attorney, campaigns as a social conservative, though he has stated in the past he would not spend as much time on some of the social issues as has Reeves, outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant and the Republican Legislature.
In 2013, Governing magazine did a lengthy profile on Hood titled “Last Democrat in Dixie.” Since then Democrat John Bel Edwards has been elected governor of Louisiana, though, he is up for re-election this year.
The story for Hood now might be that he is the Democrats’ best hope in Mississippi for the office for governor in a long time and perhaps for a long time to come if he is not successful.
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.